by Ken Rolheiser
Breathing Heaven’s air 

A new arrival in heaven meets up with God. “Well how was it down there?” God asks. “Except for the last ten minutes it was pretty good.”

I cannot minimize the painful struggle involved in shuffling off this mortal coil. Christ’s last breaths on the cross were painful. But Jesus taught us that resurrection follows the cross of suffering.

I have been blessed to breathe heaven’s air on a couple of occasions, most recently at my brother’s funeral. After the Mass of the Resurrection as the casket was incensed, I breathed in the wonderful scent of heaven.

On two other occasions, both warm summer days, I attended funerals of God’s saints and was fortunate enough to be seated by the open window of a country church. Soft and cool breezes gently moved across my face, and I thanked God for this breath of heaven.

As I prepared this column I was blessed by the musical inspiration of Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” or “Mary’s Song”. I invite the reader to google this song and take a moment. It is not a dry-eye experience.

In all humility we realize our humanity and our failings, but we are chosen by God for our special role on this earth. We just have to pray, as in the “Breath of Heaven” song, “Breath of heaven, hold me together /
Be forever near me, / …lighten my darkness / Pour over me your holiness for you are holy / Breath of heaven”.

Like Mary, we wonder if we are worthy, but Jesus tells us “You are the salt of the earth.” He doesn’t say, become the salt of the earth, or try to be the salt of the earth, but “You are the salt of the earth”.

Sometimes we experience the nearness of God. Recently, at my brother George’s funeral, I realized as I left the cemetery that this was the best I had ever felt after a funeral. My Aunt Kattie used to say, “Wasn’t that a lovely funeral.” As a child I thought, “Oh yeah, what has she been smoking?”

In truth, my brother’s life was such a blessing to us all. His following of God’s plan was so evident, and his life so well rounded, that I could only say, “I wouldn’t change anything.”

One of my brother’s gifts was his sense of humor. Almost everyone who knew him was touched by it. As a farmer, George was aware of the danger of checking a new-born calf near the mother cow. He said he discovered the solution. You simply carry a flashlight.

“How does carrying a flashlight save you from a protective cow?” I asked. “Well, it depends on how fast you carry it,” he replied.

Babies smile four hundred times a day. Adults smile a mere twenty times on average. Somehow we lose some of the joy of life as we age. 

The joy of this world is the “breath of heaven” lighting our darkness. The Spirit pours over us to do all the things that bring us joy and enrich us now and in eternity.

The golden moments of life are found in living the beatitudes. When Jesus saw the tired multitudes in Matthew 5, he gave them the message that would really fill them with blessings. 

The spiritual and corporal gifts we receive, when shared, give us a life full of blessings while making lighter the burden of others.

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