Translator: Jarlat (Carlos) Melvin, SVD
The path of life took me at the beginning of 2021, despite the pandemic, to the North to preside over a liturgical rite. After the celebration, one of the participants invited me to have lunch with him and his family. As he was accompanied and the rules to control COVID-19 are demanding, we told him that we could hardly accept the invitation. But he insisted: “I have a large table and we can respect social distance. I will be very happy to be able to serve you a simple and shared lunch in my family nucleus ”. We ended up accepting the invitation and being at his home at 12.30.
At a time when, in addition to being masked, we seem to be afraid of each other and try to avoid encounters with groups, I must admit that it was a beautiful idea that we did accept the invitation that was extended to us. I’m not just thinking about the sandwiches and the great homemade green wine they served us. The family hardly knew me, but the warmth of the welcome, the fireplace lit so as to create a familiar atmosphere, and the aroma of the delicacies served, completely melted the initial ice between us.
After three hours at the table, including excellent coffee, we decided to go home. The farewell was moving and emotional, although there were no kisses and hugs, which at this time we should leave for better days. In the car, we talked about what we had just experienced. People wonder what heaven and hell are and get confused, because it seems to them that it is not easy to find a satisfactory answer. I share that same dissatisfaction, since we are all far from imagining what God has in store for us after death. However, I think we are all living some beautiful experiences that show us what Heaven is. And we had just lived an experience like this: the gratuitousness of fraternal and sisterly love, the invitation to the table, the sharing of bread and wine that God gave us, the beauty of coexistence, the presence of God’ s love among brothers and sisters who love each other … Is Heaven something else? Heaven is the table where everyone is welcome and no one is marginalized and the good news that we are all brothers and sisters. On the contrary, I believe that hell is the opposite of everything we had experienced in that harmonious family space.
Hell is the preference to be alone, to be absent, not to participate. Like the eldest son in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15), who chose to stay outside and not enter the party. Hell is narcissism taken to its most dramatic expression. God created us for brotherhood, sisterhood, and fellowship. The best of each one of us is manifested when we leave the cocoon of our fears and expose ourselves to others, thanks to the ability we have to create bonds and live in communion. Whenever we find ourselves in closed spaces, unable to welcome someone else, we are insensitive to the most beautiful demands of our heart. We expose ourselves to feeding a fire within us, which consumes our bodies and souls. Hell is this: a fire that burns us inside and plunges us into the sadness of not loving or letting ourselves be loved. I don’t think anyone is happy to make those decisions in life. Exclusion, whoever it applies to, is a wound that marks us with fire and a branding iron. After all, the Pope speaks of all this in his last encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”. Readers will allow me to end with a very nice quotation from that document. The Pope quotes Vinicius de Moraes, who in the “Samba da Benção” writes: “Life is the art of encounters, although there is so much disagreement in life.” And Pope Francis invites us to develop a culture of encounter, which goes beyond the dialectic that sets one against the other (Fratelli Tutti, 215).
(Published in the Contact newspaper, March / April 2021 – SVD Portugal)
Father Jorge Manuel Fernandes was provincial of the SVD Portuguese province (POR), coordinator of the European zone, praeses of the Nemi community and spiritual advisor of the Colegio S. Peter in Rome. He is currently the rector of the community of Fátima, Portugal.
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