Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Third Anniversary of Easter Vigil & Confirmation

In June 1911, sometime between the night of the 23rd and the early morning of 24th, a four-year-old girl, the daughter of Italian immigrants, slept on a sofa against the wall with a window towards the foot of her bed. She awoke to a beam of light coming through the window which crossed to the center of the room and stopped at the crib in which her baby brother Victor was laying suffering from endocarditis. As the girl watched a figure began moving down the beam. It was that of a woman with a hood and a blue shawl. She too stopped at the crib and prayed over Victor.

Knowing what a good baby Victor was Josephine realized that an angel was visiting her brother because he was so good. She fell back to sleep only to awake several hours later to the sight of her parents bending over Victor’s crib fanning him. Josephine told her mother that she had seen an angel visit Victor during the night. Cesarina, asked her to describe the apparition and once she had she told Josephine that it wasn’t an angel that it was the Madonna. Later that morning Victor died.

The little girl grew up to be my grandmother and I would listen with rapt attention when she told me this story and many others about how she felt she was protected by angels during her life. Even my brother Paul had seen a cherub-like smiling face when he five just after his older sister had died. It appeared to him over his bed a friendly, kindly, smiling face. I wasn’t yet born, but these stories enthralled me. As I grew older I wondered if I would ever have a religious experience or see any holy apparitions.

I never did, and in fact, I wasn’t a very good churchgoer when I was a child, I could not pay attention and I would easily get bored. I had my first communion but after that there was a snafu about having to retake some CCD classes which interfered with one of my activities and I never got confirmed.

I had a mild interest in religion, I had a biography on St. Peter and a book on the Turin Shroud which I was fascinated with, and I read the section on Jesus in the Will Durant history book Caesar and Christ. I also tried to follow the Catholic principals and beliefs, but I never attended Mass.

In late 1997, my grandmother became ill, I began praying regularly for her welfare and decided I wanted to finally get confirmed. I visited with a priest and we discussed it. But then my grandmother got very ill and eventually died after a month in the hospital. Her death knocked me for such a loop, I was so depressed because we were so close and I forgot all about getting confirmed.

It wasn’t until 2003 after I had started attending Mass daily and had taken up the practice of praying the Rosary that the idea of getting confirmed came up again. I began visiting with Deacon Joseph Messina of St. Margaret Mary’s Parish in preparation for my confirmation which would take place during the holiest time of the year, the Easter Vigil. Back in 1997 I had chosen Joseph for my confirmation name, after St. Joseph and also in honor of my grandmother Josephine.

My godparents had passed away and I asked a very religious and old family friend Richard Zopatti if he’d sponsor me for my confirmation. He readily agreed and on Saturday, April 10, 2004 I sat with Richard and my mother in the first pew on the right waiting. Shortly before my time to step forward for the sacrament I saw, where the alter was, the Virgin Mary sitting in her robes and St. Joseph standing slightly behind her on the right. They looked somewhat like a Reinnisance painting. Then a child, a little boy ran over to Mary and as in a dream I knew who the boy was, it was me.

Directly after this and directly straight ahead, I saw Jesus standing further back. He was in a robe and looked rather serious. This vision culminated with two angels with flowing garments appearing on either side of Jesus’ larger than life face radiating from the sky. It was amazing. Nothing remotely like this had ever happened to me before. These were vibrant and clear images and I had no expectations or even imaginations of seeing anything. The deacon had made it clear not to expect any notice of the Holy Spirit when I was confirmed.

I then went forward for my confirmation and Father Moynihan placed his hand over my head and I felt pins and needles on the top of my head. All the visiting priests and deacons on the right raised their hands out stretched towards me and I felt pins and needles all down my right side.
My experience was not over however. Shortly after sitting back down, I began to see images again, as if watching a movie. Now I saw myself, from the back, dressed in my first communion robe which was cream colored with a golden band running lengthwise down it. My grandmother took my hand and we walked away.

Then I saw my grandfather, from the side, standing on the left, he had a big smile on his face and I seemed younger and I ran over to him and he mussed up my hair with his hand. I saw a quick, still, almost black and white image of my great grandmother, Cesarina. Her face moved toward me, ever increasing in size until it just vanished. Then very clearly, there was a young woman with brown hair, standing on the right. She was beckoning happily to me as a boy. I knew who she was even though I didn't immediately recognize her, it was my sister Andrea. On the left I saw another young woman who looked to be in her early twenties; she had blond hair. I realized that she was my sister Carole when suddenly the vision ended.

One thing that was consistent about the vision after I was confirmed is that all the family members I saw had died years before. My grandmother and I had been very close, she died in 1998 and I had never met my grandfather, he died almost two years before I was born. Cesarina had only seen me briefly as a baby. My sister Andrea had died four years before at the age of forty-eight, but the strangest of all was Carole, who appeared to be about twenty, had died three years before I was born when she was just eight. This led my mother to wonder whether the blond woman was actually her.

The next day I told both Father Moynihan and Deacon Messina what I had experienced and asked what could explain Carole’s appearance as a young woman when she had died as a child. Father Moynihan seemed to be familiar with this notion and mentioned a Church belief that in Heaven people will appear at their optimal age. He then gave the example that his optimal age would probably be about forty. The Deacon mentioned that it was a gift and that I should write the experience down so as to remember it.

I even told my experience to a monk, Brother Ignatius Mary, who runs an online website and answers spiritual questions. When I said, regarding my relatives, that I knew I, "wasn't seeing their actual spirits but just images of them." He responded by saying, "I think the visions you had were wonderful gifts from God. The relatives I do not think were mere images conjured in your mind, but what you saw was actually your relatives rejoicing that you were confirmed. All of heaven rejoices when someone is baptized or confirmed. You had the wonderful privilege that God allowed you to experience that rejoicing on the part of our Blessed Mother and your relatives."

He further went on to explain about my sister Carole’s appearance; "As far as your sister who died young but appeared as a woman, we need to remember that there is no "age" in heaven. Age is function biology. Our spirits do not age. We will be whole and mature in heaven. That is the probable reason why your sister appeared as an adult."

My confirmation was certainly a glorious experience and one that I will never, ever forget. Now, like my grandmother, I have a religious experience to tell to the next generation!