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Might an event or the threat of an event one day cause all of us to search our souls? What if suddenly we were faced with a dire catastrophe?

Would we not look inwardly -- in a deep fashion?

Those who are wise do this every day as an examination of conscience.

For when we die, say our theologians, as well as our mystics, the soul is revealed in the Light of God and can hide nothing. "And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil," says the Gospel (John 3:16-21). "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."

Some claim that they experienced an "illumination of conscience" even without having what is called a near-death episode. They can come as waking experiences, as dreams, or during a "life review" as the soul approaches death (and sees every moment in the Light). The lessons can be profound. Today we'll look at two of them:

"As a younger man I mistreated my wife," one viewer, who for obvious reason will remain unnamed, recently wrote to us. "I was a brute and an adulterer.

"One night in the apartment house where I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, I had this dream that will knock your socks off. I can remember to a 't' after thirty years.

"I thought I was in a cave and the complete place was filled with poisonous vipers -- the walls, the ceiling, the floor. As I was walking on them I could feel their bodies give way. It was dark but I could see them and the hissing was very loud.

"Instantly a huge viper came into my face -- two inches away -- and its head was triangular and wider than my own. There is no viper on this earth that came anywhere near the size of this viper. Hissing very loudly and dusty gray in color. The part of the eyes that are normally white were bright yellow. The pupils were a sparkling emerald green. The eyes really got to me. I have never seen such hate, evil, and viciousness.

"I started to yell and scream and the women who ran the apartment house came into my room and tried to calm me down. I had awakened everyone! I was terrified. I was crying. In my life there have only been a few times that I was even scared, never terrified. To this day I do not understand why I did not have a cardiac or at least lose control of my bodily functions.

"I tried to forget the dream the next day but I couldn't. I stared to realize how wrong I was. My wife didn't deserve what I gave her and she divorced me some time later. I did want to go back to my wife; we were married in a Catholic church. I made a trip from Arizona to New Jersey to see her and I asked her to remarry me. She had met someone else and she later married him but I apologized to her some years ago. I lost a boy at birth, breech birth on January 13, 1963, a beautiful boy, blond hair, a turned-up nose. That boy would never have turned around -- would not have been 'breech' -- if I had not caused all the stress on my wife."

Sometimes, we only learn the hard way. Many are the lessons! No one who has an "illumination" is ever the same. It is a game-changer and it is God in His mercy. We speak of this extensively at our retreats.

"I can tell you, from my own life situation, that I know with certainty that the 'illumination of the soul' experience can be the most unforgettable, powerful, and soul-converting event that can occur in one's life," wrote a woman who came to our retreat in San Francisco. "The event happened about two years ago. It was not a near-death experience, but here is the background 'spiritual setting' for what happened:  

"It was some time after my mother's death, and I was at my wit's end -- not only with the emotion of grief, but of anxiety, after having missed the deadline for filing my mother's  estate taxes. I was in great emotional distress, and I threw up my hands and said 'Lord, what an idiot I am,' and words to that effect.  

"What happened next I cannot ever forget.

"I walked into my mother's room, pacing the floor (because the late filing added $10,000 to the estate tax owed). I was very, very upset. Somehow, while awake and standing there, I saw, in my mind's eye -- while still seeing the room -- a barren and burned landscape like there had been a great fire.  

"The place was not the room I was in; it was some natural landscape that had been burned.  It was a dark scene, but not black.  

"There were only little burned things in the scene and everything else, as I said, was a flat, burned-looking ground.

"Somehow, I was given to know that the little burned things were all the things I ever valued or strove after in life, and they were absolutely nothing. I felt the vanity and uselessness of this striving of mine (and of other people's) as utter folly -- and I felt this in an indescribably painful way that was far worse than even, say, the grief over the death of a loved one.  

"I was somehow given to know many things at the same time. I was shown that the only things that mattered and existed in life were LOVE and CHARITY -- and that they were a kind of building or edifice.  

"I saw my standing before God, as if I had no ego to get in the way. It was a horrible feeling. I knew, during this experience that I was alive but somehow there was the conviction that I was already dead -- and could do nothing about my 'negative balance' before God.  

"I was given to see other things, like a certainty that I had this responsibility for the souls of many people. I was given to know that I was unquestionably responsible for the souls of others around me.   

"I am sorry to make this so long, but I want you to know that this experience was real.  I think it was some kind of gift of the Holy Spirit. It was the most emotionally painful thing I have ever felt, and it elicited the most radical conversion of my soul. I remained crying and sobbing for some time after, and then on and off for weeks. I went to Confession many times, but to tell you the truth, it never seemed enough.  

"I have never found anyone who could understand this. Let's just say that if I didn't have two children and a husband, I might just give away most of my belongings and 'live for others' in response to this experience. After later reflection, I felt that it was some kind of experience of purgatory on earth. I can't tell you how much compassion I feel for the souls in purgatory, because I was hardly able to live through just a few minutes of this experience.

"There is something else.

"Right after the few intense minutes of this experience, I went crying and sobbing to the kitchen, and saw that an e-mail had just come through on my Blackberry (where I carry a picture of St. Therese of Lisieux as the wallpaper).

"It was a 'Prayer of St. Therese' that a friend had happened to send just at that moment, with an additional few lines of quote from someone else.

"You will see that it was a gift of comfort at exactly the right moment, keeping in mind that this friend had no idea  what was occurring in my soul at that time. Here are the words of the forwarded message, just as they were sent:

St. Theresa's Prayer:

May today there be peace within.

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

May you be content knowing you are a child of God.

Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and every one of us.

[resources: The God of Miracles]

[Tell us your accounts]

[Maryland-D.C.-Virginia Michael Brown retreat, Mass]


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