Two True Stories of Uncle Wolf and Hannah
I want to share an extraordinary story. Perhaps it is not so extraordinary In the Summer of 2017, I met Uncle Wolf, short for Wolfgang. He was not my uncle, but a dear friend of mine’s uncle. Uncle Wolf was a rough man, the self-made rich man who smoked cigars, curses, ate and drank in excess, completely absorbed in the material life.
For all his wealth, Uncle Sam was not a happy man, but so engrossed in the material world, he could not see his own unhappiness. One day, his nephew, Hans, a forthright, strong man with bright blue eyes and blond hair, invited Uncle Wolf to dinner. I could not attend but met Uncle Wolf briefly on that day. Hans had a mission in his mind, to bring the fallen-away Catholic uncle back to the Church. Uncle Wolf was in what we call an “irregular marriage”, had two children and did not raise them Catholic. He was away from the Church for over forty years.
I have to admit, meeting Uncle Wolf, who stood in front of me with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, using words I cannot repeat on this blog, that I had doubts of the Hans’ efforts. Uncle Wolf was a die-hard sceptic of religion and had lived his life away from God and any Christianity for a long, long time. This nut would be hard to crack, I thought. Hans gave him a picture of the Divine Mercy, which you readers know comes from Lithuania. Uncle Wolf took it. He also received a rosary from his older sister, Greta.
Hans and Greta wanted to bring Uncle Wolf back to God as 74 seemed a good age to repent and be saved.
Almost a year passed, with Hans talking now and then to Uncle Wolf about God, the Church, Divine Mercy, Our Lady of the Rosary. Uncle Wolf still drank, smoked, cursed, lived in his unholy marriage.
Then, a month ago, Uncle Wolf became so ill he was hospitalised. Hans and Greta visited him in the hospital. Uncle Wolf listened to them talk about God, but he said nothing about coming back into the Church. He had a rosary Greta had given him, however.
One day, while still in the hospital, Uncle Wolf saw a rather new priest go by his door. He did not know the priest. Uncle Wolf, in his usual blunt and brusk manner, called the priest into his room.
The young priest, only ordained for two years or so, came into the presence of Uncle Wolfgang.
“I want to go to Confession,” Uncle Wolf announced. Then and there, in the hospital room, Uncle Wolf went to Confession for the first time in forty years, making a general confession. Then and there, he was received back into the Church. The young priest gave him the Last Rites as well.
However, Uncle Wolf did not die. He got better, quickly, and went home.
His wife and children noticed something. So did Hans and Greta. Uncle Wolf had changed dramatically. He was happy, excited, full of joy. He stopped cursing. He was kinder and less brusk. He kept talking about how wonderful the sacrament of Confession was to receive, how amazing forgiveness was given by God for years of sin.
He had an insatiable desire to know everything about the Church. Hans stepped in give Uncle Wolf crash lessons in Church teaching. The two spoke of Mary and the rosary, as well as Divine Mercy.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, merely a month ago, Uncle Wolf went with Hans to Divine Mercy Sunday Mass and Prayer Service. Remember that the graces of that day are immeasurable. Uncle Wolf was so happy, he was almost unrecognisable.
Suddenly, but not tragically, last Monday, Uncle Wolf died of a massive heart attack. Today is his funeral. He is having a full Catholic funeral, as he died a happy man reconciled to the Church. His family is in awe of grace.
HIs family say over and over, “He was a changed man.”
I pray his time in purgatory will be shortened by the prayers of Hans, Greta, and his friends.
The story is not yet over. The family seems to be changing as well. God’s grace is spreading over the family like a brilliant white light. Hans believes that some of them, too, will be converted to the one, true Faith.
Grace for a happy death is a rare and specific grace. One must pray for this and not take a death-bed conversion for granted. The grace of final perseverance is one to be asked for by practicing Catholics daily. We pray this in the Hail Mary.
“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Another specific grace, the grace of conversion, called “salvific grace”, is one God gives to every person who lives and who has ever lived. Each person on earth is given salvific grace. One can say no. Uncle Wolf said “yes.” God thirsts for souls. Do you thirst for souls? Hans and Greta did.
Let me share one more true story.
This story is about Hannah, a prayerful, lovely woman most of us knew was a living saint. She had married a man who refused to convert to Catholicism, but let her practice her faith and raise their many children as Catholics. The husband, Werner, refused to go to church with the family. He made fun of his wife’s faith. He was a difficult man.
Several years ago, Hannah dropped down in her house about eleven on a Tuesday night. Werner phoned the ambulance. She was rushed to the hospital where it was determined that she had an intracerebral haemorrhage. The doctors wanted to air-lift her to a larger hospital than the one in her town in order to try and save her life. God intervened, as He was calling Hannah home. A huge storm prevented the use of the helicopter. Hannah was put into an ambulance and rushed to this hospital by motorway. Hannah died in the ambulance, and was declared dead at two in the morning of the Wednesday. Most of us who had known this holy woman thought she would go straight to heaven. But, it seemed that God delayed her one day.
On Thursday, Werner walked into the clergy house of Hannah’s parish. He asked to become a Catholic. One that day, Werner went to confession. On Friday, the day of Hannah’s funeral, Werner made his First Holy Communion. To this day, he is a devout practicing Catholic. We who knew and loved Hannah, know understood that she was in heaven. Werner’s conversion was a miracle Hannah had prayed for all her married life.
Werner is a changed man.
The grace of God changed people. Werner responded to salvific grace. Again, I repeat, since the Resurrection, all humans have been given grace to follow Christ.
This is our teaching in the Catholic Church. No one is excluded. No one, not Uncle Wolf, or Werner.
What it takes is prayer, lots of prayers and mortification. One must sacrifice as well as pray for souls. Hans sacrificed for Uncle Wolf. Hannah sacrificed for Werner.
Grace abounds were there are such good works. Grace informs the soul. However, we all have free will to say yes or not to God. Uncle Wolf and Werner said yes to their time of grace.
St. Alpnonsus writes, as do some other saints, that God gives grace freely, but only so much grace. Then, He stops giving grace. This may seem odd and unfair to us, but it is so.
When God gives grace over and over and the person responds by refusing those graces of conversion, that salvific grace, God then lets them alone. Free will is sovereign. God will not overcome the free will of humans, the great gift He gave us to be like Him.
We are the only creatures with free will, and in that we are made in the image of God, Who is Free.
Grace and Love are the likeness. We are made, therefore, in the image and likeness of God…free will and with the capacity for grace. St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “We have kept the image but lost the likeness.” St. Bernard reminds us that God created Adam and Eve in a pristine state of being—not monkey-humans, but full of grace and beauty. They had the simplicity of grace and truth, free from desire and fear, wrote St. Bernard on one of his sermons on the Song of Songs. He stated:
It is assuredly a thing most marvelous and astonishing, that likeness which accompanies the vision of God, and is itself the vision. I can only describe it as subsisting in charity. This vision is charity, and the likeness is charity. Who would not be amazed at the charity of God in recalling someone who has spurned him? How deserving of censure is the unrighteous man who was mentioned earlier as appropriating to himself the likeness of God, but who by choosing unrighteousness becomes incapable of loving either himself or God. You know the words, ‘He who loves iniquity hates his own soul.’ When the iniquity which is partly the cause of unrighteousness is taken away, there will be a oneness of spirit, a reciprocal vision, and reciprocal love. When what is perfect comes, what is partial will be done away with; and the love between them will be chaste and consummated, full recognition, open vision, strong unity, indivisible fellowship and perfect likeness. Then the soul will know as it is known and love as it is loved, and the Bridegroom will rejoice over the Bride, knowing and known, loving and loved, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who is God above all, blessed forever. Amen. Sermon 82 on the Song of Songs
Never give up praying for those who have fallen away or never been Catholics. Never give up on hope. Have confidence in God. Hans and Greta had confidence. So did Hannah. The fruit of their prayers and sacrifices are the salvations of two and maybe more souls.
Photo by Anneke Wolf
An article from Ernst Hoffman.
JMJ, pray for us!
God is good,