Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reconciling against the odds

A monsignor once told me about a most unusual story about a reconciliation between a father and a son. Early one morning, about 3am, the monsignor received a call. He was asked to visit a patient at the hospital who had been in a coma for quite some time. It just so happen that the patient was taking a turn for the worse. Evidently, the family wanted Last Rites administered to him. Upon entering the hospital room, the patient, an elderly man, immediately came out of his coma. The monsignor prudently thought to himself, ‘There must be a reason why this man came out of his coma upon my arrival.” Wasting no time, the monsignor asked him if there was any family member that he was estranged from; anyone he needed to reconcile with. As a matter of fact, the man said, I haven’t talked to my son in several years.

After years of not talking to each other, the father called his son and asked that he come and visit him. His son complied. Against all odds, the two reconciled and were at peace with one another. All grievances were absolved through a mutual willingness to forgive one another. Two days later, the father died. It would seem that he died in peace knowing that he had reconciled with his son.

One’s deathbed has a way of disentangling misplaced priorities. Suddenly, the career, the acquisition of wealth and even harbored grudges don’t seem nearly as important as making sure that a parent, spouse, child or sibling knows that we love them. From the World Trade Center and from Flight 93 on September 11th, 2001, when people’s mortality was hanging in the balance, the first thing they were impelled to do was to say “I love you” one last time to their loved ones.

The odds of reconciling with an estranged family member came close to home a few years back. It showed me that no matter how distant or alienated someone has been from your life, with prayer, with faith- with Christ! –all things are possible. It just so happened that my father-in-law, through a divorce and a subsequent remarriage, had decided to distance himself from his children. Among his estranged children was my wife. For seven years prior to our wedding there was little communication between my father-in-law and my wife. Whatever correspondence they had, the detachment on his part was palpable. In fact, he was invited to our wedding but he had declined. In his stead, my brother-in-law had the privilege of walking my wife down the church aisle.

Within the next six to seven years, the great divide between father and daughter continued. However, one year my wife and I decided to pray the rosary everyday for her father. First and foremost, we prayed for his salvation. And secondly, we had offered up an intention to God for a reconciliation between my wife and my father-in-law. As for the latter intention, it all seemed but impossible. As for myself, I had never met the man.

That spring, on Pentecost, we began our year long rosary. With diligence we prayed every single day. The following year, to the day, my father-in-law called my wife on the phone. He wanted to know when our family could drive out to his house and see him. Soon thereafter, we drove out to New York State and my wife saw her father for the first time in years. We had a wonderful visit.

We found out later that my father-in-law, one cold winter night, slipped on the ice in a parking lot and was unable to get up. It was well below freezing and it dawned on him that he could die. Hours later, was found and was nursed back to health. Apparently, his close brush with death got him thinking about his family. That real possibility of dying, coupled with our prayers, was just what he needed.

Although the presence of death is an effective instrument in clearing away the fog of misplaced priorities, grace can work just as powerfully without it. Living life to the full must include forgiving those who have hurt us; especially family members. But forgiveness is only the first step. Our faith bids us to reach out to that estranged family member and seek to reconcile with them; even if such a reconciliation appears to be against all odds. With prayer, hope and doing your part, you'll be surprised what God can do with damaged relationships.