It seems strange, yet there is a man named Irving Goldberg who is not only a Catholic but a devout one -- hailing from Stoughton, Massachusetts. In fact, it was his name that brought him to where he is today: a pretty high place, spiritually, thanks to an experience that all but killed him. You heard that right: When Goldberg, now 72, and a former accountant, was eight years old, three neighborhood kids pounced on him for being a "Jew" in the Catholic Church. Apparently, he "didn't belong" there -- or so one of the kids, son of the richest man in town, had somehow learned.
He was horribly assaulted by the boys when the rich, older kid offered the other two a dollar. They stomped on Irving, kicked him, punched, and jumped on his stomach to such an extent that he was rushed to the hospital and a surgeon flown in from Chicago to remove his spleen in an unusually delicate operation that would later have great complications. "I was beat up back in 1948 because of my name and in the hospital for three weeks," recalls the Massachusetts man.
Actually, while Goldberg's grandparents on his father's side were indeed of the Judaic faith -- the grandfather an Orthodox Jew -- his mother's side was Italian and he was raised Catholic. That didn't seem to matter.
It was at eighteen that the complications began to hit. On an academic scholarship at the University of Massachusetts, Irving had to leave and transfer to a school closer to home when maladies started to strike and at 24 -- now married -- he had to undergo emergency surgery when his condition flared up with problems in his esophagus and then complications that included gangrene in the bowel and kidney failure. Irving met us last week during a retreat in Boston.
It was July 4, 1964,and a surgeon was called off his yacht in Boston Harbor to perform what the family was told would be surgery from which they did not expect Irving to recover. Three feet of intestine and three quarters of his stomach had to be removed! "They told my wife I would probably not survive, because no one had," recalls the accountant. "But they didn't know the power of prayer."
During the operation -- which lasted an hour and a half -- Irving says he suddenly found himself viewing the entire procedure above his body from the ceiling. He watched as a priest, Father Bill Morgan, from St. John the Evangelist Church in Canton, entered and he heard the doctor say, "Thank God you're here, father. Pray. We're losing him!"
The rites were performed while Irving was on the operating table but soon Irving was no longer in physical reality. He found himself moving through the classic tunnel or passage -- which he says was "purgatory."
"I moved through it slowly," he asserts. "It was long and there were these doorways along the way without doors. They were on both sides of me, people were reaching out of them. I couldn't recognize anyone -- they were faceless -- and they kept reaching for me and pleading: 'Please pray. Pray for us. Pray for me.'"
Though unrecognizable, says the accountant, he could tell some of the souls were male and some female by their voices and it seemed like there were thousands of them. "Then there was a light and I got to it and there was this music you can't describe and at the end of the tunnel was a bridge and I saw my Italian grandmother and the Blessed Mother," he recounts. "They both looked about 16 years old. The Blessed Mother wore a beautiful blue-gray. They were on the opposite side of the bridge and my grandmother said, 'You're coming home,' while the Blessed Virgin kind of gently pushed me back and said, 'You must go back. My Son's work is to be done.' " He was like in a white cloud. He saw little else around him. He could smell the flowers and hear that music "like nothing here on earth." The Blessed Mother reminded him of images he says he would later see of the famed apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina. "My grandmother meant I had to return," he says.
There was no water under the bridge; as in other near-death episodes, it served as a point from which there is no return -- a final entrance in the afterlife (others see a hedgerow or wall or door or valley or gate (thus: the "valley of the shadow of death" and St. Peter as "gatekeeper"). Indeed, Irving soon found himself back in the world. His account brings up another one that has crossed our desks from a Protestant, Bob Hoshor, in Ohio, who "died" in 2010 and also saw a place -- to the shock of his wife, who was a minister -- resembling purgatory.
In the case of Hoshor -- clinically dead for 21 minutes (during heart surgery) -- it was seeing spirits in the hospital -- souls that still wandered the rooms and seemed trapped because they had not forgiven whoever had harmed them (something Irving had done right from the beginning, refusing even to tell police, initially, the names of those who beat him).
We'll have more on the Hoshor account next week. One spirit he allegedly saw was a girl who seemed engulfed in the smell of smoke. Later, in a prayer revelation, his wife claimed to have learned that it was a woman who had been brutally assaulted and burned in a home. She was unable to forgive. Another was a man trapped in a burning car who bitterly blamed his parents for a drinking problem that got him into the accident. "Bob saw other 'spirits' floating around the hospital, but he couldn't see their faces like he could the young girl and the young man in the car wreck," writes his wife, Lois. "He said that no one knows what happens in hospitals and that there were spirits all around the place. He then asked if we could smell the smoke as he began to cry. He said the little girl was trapped behind the wall and unable to get out."
We see the similarities. Others have likewise testified that hospitals are a place where we should use sacramentals like Holy Water because of the spiritual dynamics. Many are the accounts from nurses (see: The Spirits Around Us).
But the point here: forgiveness. It was what bound those spirits that Hoshor saw -- while in Irving Goldberg's case he had forgiven his tormentors to the point where, in later years, when one of the three boys -- now an adult -- was in the hospital at the same time, having a cat scan, Irving went to see him and let him know he had completely forgiven him! "It's what Christ did from the Cross, right?" says the accountant off-handedly.
And so Heaven -- not purgatory (or a place in-between) -- had been his destination. What grace!
What a lesson.
Forgive, forgive, and forgive to the very end and head for the Blessed Mother in the Light beyond the trials of this place called earth.