I have a very holy, great-aunt who is known in our family as "the hotline" for her ability to get her prayers answered. To give you an idea of how powerful her prayers are, she said a novena for my father to meet "a nice girl" many decades ago. My aunt ended her novena for my father on a Tuesday and my parents met the next day.
I would often tap this source of Faith in my family. Whenever I had an urgent prayer request I would enlist her to storm the heavens. When I would check on her progress and jokingly ask her if she was still praying for my request, she would say in her Irish brogue, "My lips are dry!"
One time after checking on her "progress" on a very special prayer petition during my college years, she told me something that to this day has left an impression on me. She said she made a deal with God that if He honored her request she would vacuum Heaven for Him someday. When I heard this I broke a smile, but she was dead serious. There was definitely a Heaven, and it definitely needed vacuuming. Her Faith was so simple and childlike. It was unsophisticated but completely pure and without any sliver of doubt.
Immediately after this conversation with my aunt I headed off to one of my college classes. It was taught by a Jesuit priest whom on that day mentioned that only three words have been documented out of the mouth of Christ. In looking back, I am unsure of what his end game was in telling the class this. Maybe he was trying to get a rise out of the class, or test our Faith, or dilute our Faith. I have known a good amount of Catholics whom have strayed from Rome as the result of Jesuit instruction that adapted the Catechism of the Church to their own intellectual views. Many don’t know this but Jesuits take a fourth vow at their ordination, when regular priests take only three (poverty, chastity and obedience). This extra oath is obedience to the Pope, which makes some of these Jesuits even more difficult to tolerate. All this being said, like any group of people you have your good and your bad. Father Joseph Fessio and Cardinal Avery Dulles are shining examples of Jesuits.
So at the time that this intellectual Jesuit, who never wore a roman collar around campus, threw out this discerning fact to the class I had thoughts of raising my hand and asking him if he thought Heaven needed to be vacuumed. I think I would know what his answer would be, but would have loved to have seen the look on his face and I would side with my great-aunt’s belief first. Hopefully, you can appreciate the contrast in this story. An over-educated Jesuit spreading doubt in his Faith, and a "simple" woman without a high-school diploma believing absolutely in her Faith.
Yesterday, I stopped by my great-aunt’s house. She is going on 94 and has deteriorated considerably. She does not recognize people and does not make eye contact with anyone anymore. She is incoherent with any communication. After staying about 20 minutes and upon leaving I, realizing this could be the last time I see her, gave her a kiss and a hug and told her I loved her. At that moment she shockingly made eye contact with me for the only time during my visit and said, "Please pray for me…", then went back into her world.
Even to the very end, with every human function of her body failing, her Faith remained predominate.
It was a very bittersweet moment that this powerhouse of prayer that I relied on so much over the years for her prayers somehow found the will to ask me to pray for her in her final days. She now relied on my prayers and I owed her many. I think my low-level prayers for her will be steady but short-lived as she will be praying for me again soon in between her vacuuming. The Communion of Saints is a true gift of Catholicism.
Mark 10:15: Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."