I am a missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In January of 1991, I went on a mission to the Indians and Eskimos of Canada and stayed for 13 years. The Indians with whom I worked lived in five places in Canada’s far north, dispersed across a range of more than 400 kilometers (240 miles) with only one missionary serving the region. That’s why to be able to attend Sunday Mass, the Indians had to cover the distance by airplane. They so loved the Lord God that, in order to be able to take part in the Mass, go to confession, and receive Holy Communion, they flew in by plane! The Indians are by nature very religious. I never met a single Indian or Eskimo who would say they didn’t believe in God! For these simple people, to fail to believe in God is so utterly absurd that they say it’s simply impossible, and that one would have to be exceptionally stupid and blind not to believe. How is it possible to not believe in God! It’s the most obvious thing in the world! All of creation tells us about God: the air, the sun, the moon, every bird, every pebble. Every rustle of a leaf is proof of the greatness of God.
After the first Mass I celebrated among the Indians, a sickly old woman explained to me the basis of the wisdom of the Indians:
“When we talk to God and listen to Him we are wise and know everything. When we cease to talk and listen to God, we all become stupid.”
That woman didn’t need my wisdom. In the simplest terms she showed me what she expected from me as a priest. These words apply to all Christians. This is the expectation of many of the world’s people — many hearts that are still awaiting the Gospel:
“That we, as Christians, should show ourselves capable of loving and praying, and that wherever we are, we should be signs of God and disciples of Christ. This is in order that other persons whom we might meet should walk away better, and not worse”.
A few years later another priest and I took a short vacation to Mexico to recharge our batteries. We were staying in a resort town on the coast. One early morning I went for a walk along the beach to pray my rosary. The sea was calm; the water’s surface smooth. At first I hadn’t intended to go for a swim, but after a while I decided to go into the water which buoyed me along very pleasantly. I started to swim along the shoreline, turning onto my back and simply laid there. A few minutes passed. I lifted my head and noticed that I had drifted a good distance from the shore. It was still shallow water and I wasn’t concerned: “No problem — I’ll make my way back in no time”. I turned over and started the crawl stroke toward the shore. However, I felt like I was drifting further away and started swimming faster, but to no avail.
I was drifting in the opposite direction from shore. At that point the thought occurred to me: “It’s an undertow!” I hadn’t noticed the red flags warning swimmers about it. The water along the shore had seemed calm — that’s exactly why it was so smooth, because of the undertow. I was drifting farther out. At that point, I really was a long way from shore and I had the thought: “Isn’t it strange that not even for a moment do I feel any fear of drowning or that any evil will befall me”. I felt inner peace and tried simply to conserve my strength and breathe. I was thoroughly convinced that “whatever happens, it won’t result in my death” and was convinced that someone would notice and rescue me. It was really as though someone spoke the words: “Don’t be afraid!” to me internally. By this time the water had carried me so far that the waves around me were growing ever larger and I slowly drifted into the vast expanse of the ocean. This was no longer a joke as I was several hundred meters from shore.
The pounding of the waves whipped me around, and I couldn’t reach the surface for air. The current was pulling me under. When I came back up, I opened my eyes, but the current whipped me around such that I didn’t and couldn’t tell where I was. I looked for the light, because I knew that that was where the air was. I swam for the surface, but now a struggle for survival began! The huge waves pounded repeatedly. After each one I was dragged deeper down and it was getting more difficult to work my way upwards. The thought was beginning to reach me that the current could pull me so far down I wouldn’t be able to make it! For some time, the struggle continued. I wasn’t yet thinking of death. The next wave pounded me and I caught a breath and was trying to hold it as long as I could. This wave took me so deep that I found myself in total darkness. In this obscurity I could no longer identify where I was nor did I know which direction to take to go toward the water’s surface. I didn’t know how to save myself! The air in my lungs was running out. A quarter of a minute passed. I was at the point where death was imminent. I thrashed about blindly trying to save myself, but the deep had enclosed me in its impenetrable dark grip. I could feel my lungs collapsing and realized I was dying. The end had come.
I had only one thought: death was coming, and in a moment I would be standing before God Himself! I already had some experience of God. In my thoughts I said: “God, I am coming to you!” “God, be merciful!” “Accept my soul!” At that moment I saw the light of God’s presence and was completely conscious; I could see clearly and was mentally aware. I had never felt better. I could see how my body had separated itself from ‘me’. I heard a voice that said: “Don’t worry about your body. You won’t be needing it!”
I saw my body as though it were curled up like a baby in its mother’s womb. The Lord God created for me something like a transparent glass bubble of air and I saw two beams of light. It was a light completely different than the one in which I was immersed. I knew that the beams of light were two angels, even though they did not have a human form.
These angels — the two beams of light — were carrying my body off somewhere. I heard: “Don’t be concerned about it — you don’t need that [your body] now”. It was a beautiful sight. At that moment I turned my attention toward another light. My soul experienced the wonder of the beauty that awaits beyond death. I looked around and found myself in something like a rectangular room. There was no ceiling above, just a space, like looking at a beautiful sky, and at the sides were walls of light. I was immersed in light, which had its own borders.
For lack of adequate words, I call it all a room. It was a kind of a foyer. I was aware of my presence as a living being with arms, legs, and so on. It’s hard to describe what I saw since there is nothing on earth in comparison. Not even the light could be compared to earthly light. I was bathed in a light that was Love. At some point the room began to lengthen and grow. At the end of the room I saw something like a cathedral; colors, music, and beautiful lights began to appear. The cathedral looked gothic but was made of glass, crystal, and light. It was something wonderful! I knew that I wanted to go there — it was heaven. It was what in the Bible is called the New Jerusalem (“God’s temple in heaven was opened...” Revelation 11: 19). I saw the entry to the temple and felt a great desire to enter but I had to wait, since people dressed in beautiful robes — white and various shades of pastel (pink, green, and blue) — started to gather around me. Like the pure white, each of the colors had a symbolic meaning.
It was indescribable. People stood in long vestments with their hands folded. They saw me, but it was as though they paid me no attention. I was one of them, but I wasn’t the most important. So I asked: “What’s going to happen here that all of you have come and we are here?” Nobody responded, so I tried to ask again. One thing seemed strange: among all these people I recognized the dead of my family and friends; and people whom I had met on earth, but most of them were people whom I didn’t know. I also saw people who were more or less middle-aged. But when I asked them the question they didn’t respond so I understood that I wasn’t to ask them about anything. It wasn’t the right time. It was given to me to understand that something important was about to happen. At a moment when I was asking another question, my father, who had been deceased for many years, appeared. He came and stood at my left side, while at my right, like a pillar of light, stood my guardian angel (at that point I still didn’t know its name). My father seemed to put his arm around my shoulder and said: “Why do you ask? Don’t ask about anything, since you already know everything”.
I then had a vision of my entire life. The good and the bad, my thoughts, my words, and my actions were all written down as though on the hard disc of a computer. It was as though the Lord God had pushed a button and projected my life onto a wide film screen. Through the eyes of my soul I saw all the good and bad things that I had done in my life — my entire life, from birth to the present moment — as well as the good and evil that I had experienced. When I found myself in that light, passages from the Holy Scriptures came to me which applied to the situation I found myself in. When the light appeared, I immediately thought:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8: 12).
There were also verses about love. Light and love, this was God Himself. I knew that I was alive, thanks precisely to that light. I understood that the amount of life I have in me depends on the degree to which I unite myself to that light. As well, I am part of that light, as one of God’s creations. I began to understand what the soul is, as well as how God had created my soul and body, and then had given me a a mission to fulfill. I received an understanding of the words:
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 40).
When I cause someone pain by my words or actions, I don’t know how much it hurts that person. He can express it through anger or reaction, but only he himself knows how much it hurt. But is it only him who knows? No, Jesus, living in the soul of the person, also knows his pain, because God shares in that pain. Jesus, who abides in the soul of our neighbor is the same Jesus who lives in my soul. That is also why, in considering any given word or action that I expressed or committed, God let me recognize the pain that I caused my neighbor — and I understood the burden of sin, and how much it hurt Jesus. It was a horrifying pain, crushing and tearing like a tsunami.
This was suffering for the sins for which no penance was done, or for those that were not well confessed. Sin that was forgiven and for which penance was done did not hurt; it was only recognized that the sin had been committed. I wouldn’t have been able to stand the pain that I caused God through sins against people if I hadn’t at that moment been bathed in that light and in the Love that sustained me.
I saw all the good thoughts, actions, prayers, and sufferings that I had offered to God over the course of my life. This was like a balm, like love or a refreshing breeze. In a single moment I recognized my entire life, along with recognizing the person I had been in God’s eyes. I saw how much in my life had been good and how much had been bad, nothing remained concealed. That’s why my father had said: “You already know everything”. He knew that it had been granted to me to know my own state as I stood before God, in Whom I was immersed. After a moment I heard the words of the Lord Jesus (I couldn’t see Him, but I knew that it was Jesus):
“You are surrounded by those whose souls you helped to save. They came to meet and join you in praising God before Whom you stand. You are surrounded by those whom you helped to save by your prayer, suffering, and love”.
It is God who saves, while we on earth, have a duty not only to attend to our own behavior, but to aid the salvation of others by our choices and the witness of a good life. We are to be signs of God in order to help others to know Him and to love Him. We are to be the impetus for others to find salvation. After death we will meet all those whom we helped to save through prayer, suffering, or by any other means. Those who die before us come to meet us at the moment of our deaths. Even while we are still alive they pray for us constantly, regardless of whether they are already in heaven or in purgatory. They can also thank us that they found themselves in purgatory and not in hell. Their suffering in purgatory can be shortened or diminished as the fruit of our prayers and sacrifices, such as when we offer Masses, Holy Communion, and our good works on their behalf. They repay us for our help when they are thankful and in heaven by praying for us constantly so that the moment of our death will be an experience of the true love that is God. That is how the particular judgment is.
God permitted me to remember certain impressions. When I think of it, they come back to me as though heaven were open to me: heavenly music and beautiful heavenly sights that come to me as though through a crystal; through light.
At a certain point I found myself on the shore. There was a beautiful sunset and the sun was a powerful disc in the sky. It looked like (and I heard it internally) that it was about twenty minutes before sunset. The sky was clear, and the colors amazing. I looked at the sun, but it didn’t dazzle me at all. I was surrounded by souls who had made their way to heaven and understood that my father was also in heaven. When I looked at the light and the sky, a cloud suddenly appeared across them and began to expand. At first it was white, but little by little, as it expanded it transformed into a black cloud, exactly like a horrific tornado. This cloud began to rush in my direction. I could feel that I had to look at it and felt no fear or anxiety about this. Even though I was alone, I was surrounded by the light, and it seemed to be closing in around me. I found myself in something like a cell, a room from which I couldn’t escape. After a moment the cloud changed and it appeared as a horrific beast — Satan; a gruesome beast in human-animal form. During my earthly life I had seen various images that were revealed by the mystics — not painters — which depicted a demon, but I had never seen a portrayal as horrific or threatening as this.
In fact, it was not the beast’s appearance that was so horrifying, but the hatred that emanated from him. This howling, bellowing demon screamed ghastly, horrific curses as it approached me. At that moment one of the angels standing by me said: “Just watch”. So I stood, fearing nothing, because I knew the beast would do nothing to me. It was simply an experience of the hatred which Satan exudes. I knew he hated me. He hurled curses at me and said he would do everything to tear me away from the light and thrust me into hell! He hated me so much for two reasons. First, because I am a priest, and secondly, because he wanted revenge for the souls who surrounded me and whom I had helped to save. Satan hates priests and hates when we pray and offer our sufferings for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of people. By doing this we tear souls out of Satan’s hands and turn them over to God. Every prayer for sinners, every pain suffered, every communion received, has a healing power when it is offered for the sake of God’s love. For this Satan hates and persecutes us. He does everything to discourage us from prayer and to tear us away from God. He discourages us from going to confession and church and from doing good. For demons what is important is that we shut ourselves up in our own egoism and conformism.
The moment arrived when the beast wanted to smash himself against the wall of light that was surrounding me. I heard: “Say the prayer!” I immediately knew which prayer I was to pray. At that greatest feeling of hatred from the source of evil I began to pray:
“For the sake of His sorrowful passion — have mercy on me!”
These are the words of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy altered slightly because I was already “on the other side.” My soul was with God, and no longer abiding among people. My guardian angel, who was standing beside me, prayed the prayer along with me. At the moment that I spoke those words, the beast shrieked so powerfully that it seemed that the entire world would crumble. It was a horrific cry, as though an atomic bomb were blowing up the earth! The beast was gone in a moment. As quickly as he had arrived, he returned to that cloud over the sun and disappeared. I heard the words:
“I permitted you to discern the power of My mercy. When a soul calls on My mercy, Satan becomes powerless. That is the power of My mercy. You received this in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I allowed you to experience this power; a single recitation suffices to expel Satan.”
Purgatory is a solitude or a darkness — depending on the state of sin of the person who lands there. It is a place of great suffering. Some layers of purgatory are no different than hell. The only difference is that there is hope to escape from purgatory by the end of time. At the Last Judgment, the end of time, all souls remaining in purgatory will find salvation in heaven. From hell, on the other hand, there is no hope of escape as hell is eternal. Some people who deserve hell will be saved. They go to purgatory, thanks to some good work or thanks to prayer. The sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion seal souls with a sign. Those who turn away from God at the moment of death and reject His mercy end up in hell. To the very end, to the last moment, God offers them the possibility for salvation. No matter how great a sinner one may have been, or how horrific might have been the sins he committed, right to the last moment of life he can save himself. The one who will be condemned is the one who at that last moment rejects God completely.
I had the opportunity to talk to two members of my family who were suffering in purgatory and received the gift of knowing just what it is like. One of them said:
“Fight for heaven, talk about purgatory, tell them about it in your sermons!”
One of the priests told me what I should say. He regretted that he himself hadn’t said anything about what awaits us in the next life, and that through his bad choices, he had wasted his life. He emphasized how grateful the souls in purgatory are for every prayer we make on their behalf. Nonetheless, he called attention to the fact that prayers and Masses offered for the intention of these souls help them to the same extent that they themselves valued them during their life. This is an amazing experience — the souls in purgatory know who is praying for them, but unfortunately they can’t do anything to help themselves. The Holy Mass has the greatest power!
The souls in purgatory who are moving ever closer to heaven constantly feel more light and see more — they see the prospect of coming nearer to heaven. Souls in purgatory have a powerful longing for God. This longing causes profound pain. What contributes to the pain is their recollection of all the lost opportunities when they could have gone to Mass, when they could have received Communion, when they could have recited a prayer or done some good work. This pain is the regret over squandered opportunities to do good. Every day the Blessed Virgin visits the souls in purgatory, where there is no sense of time. Every visit from Mary is a great respite for every soul in purgatory. These souls gain the greatest relief from their suffering on Marian holidays. The greatest number of souls are released on Christmas Day because Jesus descended to earth specifically in order to save. All Saints Day is also a day of great amnesty.
The entire time I was longing for heaven. From a distance, I saw the light of heaven and snippets of the heavenly life to which I was strongly attracted. I wanted to go there. It was at this moment that the Lord Jesus appeared to me in a human bodily form. I wanted to ask Him when I would go to heaven. I knew that it depended entirely on grace and that I did not deserve it even though I also knew that my confession of faith along with my request for mercy were not without meaning. I felt a great longing to go to heaven! Then I heard these words:
“I am going to send you back to earth.”
So I began something like a debate with the Lord Jesus, because I didn’t want to return to earth — everything was so wonderful where I was! The Lord Jesus said:
“Yes, I know that you want to be here, since I want the same thing — for you to be here with Me as soon as possible. I want for every soul to be happy here with Me, and that they should be here as soon as possible. But your mission on earth isn’t finished yet. You still have to suffer much, pray much and love much in order to direct many more souls to Me”.
The Lord Jesus has an amazing sensitivity and delicacy that is impossible to describe! I answered Him: “No!” but Jesus continued:
“Go back and talk about what you have seen. Tell them everything about how much I love every soul. Tell them how I long for every soul to be happy, and to be immersed in Me. Tell everyone how I wait for each one. Tell them how they can meet Me, true and living, on earth. Just like you see me now — so can everyone meet me in Holy Communion. I wait for all of you in the Holy Mass. Do not bow your heads when My priest raises the Host at the consecration; do not close your eyes, but look at Me because I am looking at you from that Host. I look at your lives, I see you, I look at you with love, and with love I come to those who receive Me with love, to fill their souls with My mercy and with the power to fight against evil.Tell them about this!”
After this final conversation with the Lord Jesus he sent me back to earth and I heard the words: “Stand up!” At that moment I felt something solid under my feet; I felt my mind returning to me and the sense of my body. I could feel that I was at the bottom of the water, and I was wondering how I would reach the shore as I was on the ocean floor! I heard the words: “Straighten yourself up!” I straightened up and my head emerged from the water. I was in water to the depth of my chin. Next I heard: “Get out of the water.” I started to head in the direction of the shore and came out at exactly the same place where I had entered the water. It was physically impossible, since the riptide was flowing the entire time! I had returned to life because that was what the Lord God wanted. Not for a moment did I feel any fatigue, nor did I feel any suffocation or that I was trying to catch my breath. It was as though I had simply jumped into the water and came right out, nothing more! When I stepped onto the shore I heard: “Sit!” So, I sat down on the sand, looked in the direction of the water and began to wonder. My memory came back and I asked myself the enormous question: “What was that?” I started to see everything again, as though it were a film. I could see as though in two different dimensions — as though I were going through it all again, and on the other hand, as though I were watching from above. It was amazing! I saw the whole event playing out from the moment I entered the water, through the experience of drowning and up to my stepping out of the water. Again I had to wonder: “What was that? Was it real or some kind of hallucination?”
I heard in my spirit: “Look — someone is coming for you”. I saw a middle-aged man approaching me from a distance. He had rather long, light, curly hair and was wearing a nice pastel-colored shirt and carrying a book. He came closer, lifted his hand and greeted me: “Welcome!” I greeted him in return, and then we began talking with each other. He asked me: “How are you feeling?” I answered: “Fine”. “Are you sure you’re fine?” “I’m fine”, I countered. He asked: “Do you need any help?” I assured him no. The conversation was amazing; he went about 30 meters from me, but despite this I had good contact with him and could hear him just fine! Then he approached me slowly and said to me: “But just a moment ago you needed help”. I didn’t know who he was or how he knew what had happened. This was very confusing for me. Then he said: “You went into the water, but you didn’t know there was a riptide”. Then he told me everything I had just been through. I thought to ask: “If you saw everything, why didn’t you rescue me?” At that moment I heard an internal voice telling me: “You are talking to an angel. My angel has come to you”. Then the angel relayed everything to me up to the moment when the wave pulled me under the water. He told me: “A couple of times you managed to escape, but ultimately, you didn’t get out. Then for a long while I couldn’t see you”.
I wanted to ask: “How long?” I wondered about it, but knew that “on that side” there is no sense of time. I immediately heard the words, though not from him, but from an internal voice:
“Twenty minutes of earthly time passed, time doesn’t exist where you were, but on earth twenty minutes passed while you were out of your body”.
The angel further explained:
“You were gone for a long time and then I saw you by the shore emerging from the water. I came to help you back to reality”.
At the end of the meeting the angel said:
“Good-bye. I will always be nearby. When you need help, all you have to do is call. I will come and help!”
Various persons who have survived clinical death have returned to life with no visions. Others had visions of evil. These people remember just what God wants them to remember: what they need, or what they can and should share with others, A person doesn’t awake from clinical death just because they want to wake up, but because God wants them to. It is God who rules the entire world. No person can live even a second longer than God has planned for them. So if they undergo the experience of clinical death it must have been in God’s plans for them. It doesn’t depend on any man what he might see during clinical death, or what visions he might have. I survived my own death. It is also apparent that it wasn’t time for my departure for that world. The time of our death is determined. I was shown this during my trip “to the other side”. The time of our death is already set at the time of our birth. God has already determined the time, how long we will live, and what mission we are to fulfill. Whether we fulfill it depends on us, because we are free. The circumstances of death are changeable. They can change up to the last moment, but the date of death is established from above.
“It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment”(Hebrews 9:27).
Reprinted with kind permission: www.loamagazine.org/archive/2019/2019-47/i-survived-death-i-saw-heaven