Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 14)

Paul was a young boy living in Seattle with his parents. They were one of the first families on the block to have a telephone in their home. Paul was too small to reach the phone but he used to listen in fascination as his mother talked into it.

In his young mind there was someone who lived in that little box. Her name was “Information Please.” His mom would call her when she lifted the receiver. “Information Please” must have been very smart because she could supply anybody’s phone number and even the correct time.

Paul’s first encounter with “Information Please” was a few years later. He was home alone. When in the basement playing with his father’s tools Paul hammered his thumb and it hurt badly. He was looking for sympathy but no one was home. Then he thought, “Information Please” is here, she’ll know what to do. So he went to the phone, said “Information Please” and there she was. He explained the situation. “Is there any blood?” came the question. “No, it just hurts.” She told him to go to the ice box, chip off a piece and put it on his finger. He did that and felt much better.

After that Paul called “Information Please” for everything. One time he called and asked for help with geography and she told him where Philadelphia was located. Other times he would call for math questions. She always had an answer to his questions. One day his pet canary died and he called to ask: “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers at the bottom of a cage?” She sensed his deep concern and said quietly: “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Hearing this he felt better.

When Paul was 9 his family moved across the country to Boston. He missed his old friend “Information Please” who lived in that telephone box. As he grew into his teens, the memory of “Information Please” never left him; nor the conversations they had had.

Years later when he was going off to college he had a connecting flight in Seattle. He had some time so he made a local call to his sister. After hanging up he dialed his hometown operator and said: “Information Please.” To his great surprise, a familiar voice responded “Information.” He then said: “Could you please tell me how to spell ‘fix’?”

There was a long pause, then came the reply: “I guess that finger of yours has healed by now.” Paul laughed. “Is that really you?” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.” She said, “I wonder too if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children of my own and I used to look forward so much to your calls.”

Paul recounted how much he thought of her over the years and that their conversations never really left him. He asked if he could call again when visiting the area. “Please do,” she said, “just ask for Sally.”

A few months later as Paul was traveling back home, he again was passing through Seattle. So he called. “Information,” the voice came — but it was a different voice, so he asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” “Yes,” Paul said, “a very old friend.” “I’m sorry to have to tell you this. Sally has been working only part time the past few years. She had been very sick. She died five weeks ago.”

Before Paul could hang up, the operator said: “Is this Paul by any chance?” “Yes,” he said. “Oh good. Sally left a message to give to you should you call asking for her.” “What is it?” “She said to tell you, ‘I still say there are other worlds to sing in.’”

Paul told the story years later and recalled the impact of Sally’s kindness and insights on his life. The first time he had to deal with the reality of death, it was with his pet canary. Sally had the insight to recognize that Paul was not just saddened by the loss of a pet but was beginning to ask “grown up” questions about life, and death.

By the end of the story, when Paul is confronted with death from a “grown up” perspective, the message remains the same – death is not the end.

The Gospel passage for the liturgy on this Fifth Sunday of Easter is often used at funeral liturgies. Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

Jesus speaks of a life beyond this world, a life that is eternal. The message is repeated throughout the Gospel. You might recall last week’s Gospel when Jesus says: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Or when Jesus speaks to Martha after Lazarus has died, when he says: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Or when he says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

As we continue to observe the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death through his resurrection from the dead. Jesus lives and because of him we too shall live. Jesus’ words today speak not just of the fact of eternal life but what it entails.

Eternal life means life in the presence of God. Throughout this passage Jesus speaks of “being with” the Father as the “end” or “goal” of life. When Jesus speaks of heaven, he speaks of it as “the Father’s house.”

That is where he is going and where he will take us – so that we can be with the Father forever. When Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he follows with “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The destination is the Father, being one with him. As the passage continues, Philip says to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us,” to which Jesus replies: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life because he leads us to the Father. The life he offers us is divine life, a life that not even death can destroy.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.