St Drithelm

(entered heaven around the year 700)

Dear Drew,

Glad to hear that things are going well.  Is it possible that they are going too well?  I don’t want to be the proverbial wet blanket (unless you’re burning to death, that is), but we should always keep in mind our Lord’s words, “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  In other words, don’t luxuriate too much in earthly happiness (which you seem to be experiencing), because it might make you forget about the rest of the story.  Which reminds me of today’s saint’s odd story.

Drithelm was a virtuous man, father of a healthy family that lived in the north of England.  One day he died – or at least it seemed so.  The next morning, while his friends and family were gathered around his corpse, praying, he suddenly came back to life, freed from all signs of the illness that had apparently killed him.  He immediately put his affairs in order, liquidating his property and dividing it equally among his wife, his children, and the poor, then presented himself to his king, and requested that he be admitted to the monastery under St Ethelwald’s care.  From that day forward he lived a life of simplicity, prayer, and penance, giving such good example and such good advice that he was responsible for numerous conversions.  What had happened on the night of his “death” that made such an impression on this humble saint?  Well, it seems that his guardian angel had taken him on a supernatural safari (near death experience?), and he learned well from what he had seen.

First he was taken to a narrow valley whose walls were burning on one side and frozen on the other.  Numerous souls were being pitched back and forth between the burning sides.  The angel explained that this was where souls who had repented on their deathbeds were being purified for heaven.  Then he was given a glimpse a burning pit, filled with countless people and gross demons, that emitted an intolerably disgusting stench and bloodcurdling screams.  That was hell.  Next he was brought to a lush green valley where thousands upon thousands of peopled danced and laughed in little groups.  Plentiful flowers wafted a delightful aroma (which counteracted the foulness of the hellish furnace).  He thought that was heaven, but his guide informed him that it was where souls who were living a good (but not perfect) Christian life went after they died; there they learned the perfect love of the saints so that they could eventually enjoy heaven.  His last stop was on the outskirts of a place full of light and even more beautiful music and laughter – it made the other field seem dark and boring.  The angel wouldn’t let him in there; it was heaven, and he had to be satisfied with only a whiff. When he returned to consciousness, he resolved to take on a life of prayer and penance, for the sake of winning as many souls as possible for the eternal Kingdom.

An extraordinary experience, yes; but purgatory, hell, and heaven are indeed real, as our Lord himself and the Church have never tired of reminding us.  And their reality can give us stability as we brave the ups and downs of life.  And you need some stability, so keep them in mind.

God bless,

Uncle Eddy

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