No one can be sure of where they are going, for life many times takes sudden, unexpected turns. During the five years I spent in Chile, I had a chance to experience up close and personal what life as a missionary is all about.
It was Holy Thursday, right before Easter. We had decided to bring a group of high school kids to a remote village at the foot of the Andes Mountains. They were days full of activities as we went to speak with the families spread out around the local Church. On that Thursday, to finish the day, we had gone to the Church to pray. I gave a short talk and the young men, exhausted from a hard day, went to the nearby house to go to sleep. I, on the other hand, decided to stay for awhile to accompany Christ in the Eucharist. As I headed out into the pitch black street afterwards, closing the door to the Church as the local priest had asked, an eerie feeling came over me.
I tried to shake it off as I quickly stumbled towards the town plaza. The dim glow from a street light now lit my path. I turned the corner tight so as to get back quickly. Suddenly, a shadow moved toward me. I walked quicker. “Father! Father!” came the voice from behind. As I turned around, I saw a young man obviously half drugged with a curious yearning gaze in his eyes. I quickly looked about for help but there was no one.
“Father”, he said as he took a step towards me “tell me something… tell me… does God exist?” Half surprised, I looked him square in the eyes. His question of despair groped for an answer. “Yes”, I said firmly “God exists”. He looked down for a second and started again with a somewhat ironic tone; “Tell me Father… tell me then… does Hell exist?” I did not know whether to answer or try to escape but his fixed gaze did not let me go. “Hell exists. Yes, hell exists.” I replied. I waited, but the expected burst of anger disappeared. He nervously looked about and said “I know it does, I live it every day. But, then, tell me Father…” now his voice gave off his aching heart “…tell me… does heaven exist?” “Of course” I replied, “you know it does”. Now he took another step closer, his eyes fixed and stable he put his hand on my arm and said “Then,… promise me one thing.” “What?” “Just promise me one thing… at least you have to make it. If no one else does… at least you do.”
That eerie night in the town plaza taught me a lot about life. So many people live in despair; no hope, no love, no faith nor future. They crave for the freedom that only God gives and yet at the same time feel incapable and unworthy of it.
This world yearns for testimonies of hope, men and women capable of transmitting the true joy that only Christ can give. With our eyes fixed on eternity may we bring many people like this young man from the snares of hell to the joy of heaven.
Aaron Smith, LC studies for the priesthood with the Legionaries of Christ in Rome.
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