"Rejoicing in heaven"
A woman who lived near the parish died suddenly at the age of 49. I was especially saddened when I got the call about her death from the funeral home because the next of kin is her 17 year old daughter. When I offered the vigil prayers at the viewing, I asked the many friends and family to continue to pray for and support this precious girl much in the coming days and weeks. Having lost my own father to a sudden death when I was 17, my heart went out to the daughter in a special way.
The next day, we celebrated a beautiful burial service at the cemetery in the hot late morning sun. Many people turned out to honor and pray for the repose of the soul of this God-fearing woman. Afterwards, the family was generous enough to invite me back to their home for the reception where the scores of family and friends gathered.
Many of the daughter's friends were playing basketball in the street shortly after I arrived. At one point, I walked over and asked how much they would wager that I could drain a 20-foot shot. One guy said, "$20". My first shot fell short, and I was in the hole to the young lad. "Double or nothing", I said, to which he agreed. Then, as I lined up the next shot, one of the girls said, "I didn't know priests could play basketball" to the group of about 20 who had gathered. Whoosh! The second shot was good, the kids went nuts, and the guy was shaking his head.
Some time later, I was talking with some of the good folks back in the house. A family member asked for a blessing. Minutes after the blessing, she asked to go to Confession which we did on the side porch. Another beautiful woman of faith! When we walked back in the living room, another woman asked to reconcile with God (and the Church) in Confession.
By the time I left, three people had made beautiful Confessions; what an awesome gift for this new priest! And, it had been many, many years for some. I was reiterating to them how great it was that they came back to the Sacrament, and how much it pleased God. I told them that there was great rejoicing in heaven, just as Jesus has said: "There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance" (Lk 15:7).