“One of the elders used to say: In the beginning when we got together we used to talk about something that was good for our souls … But now we get together and spend our time criticizing … And we drag one another down into the abyss.” -- The Paradise of the Fathers (vol. II, p. 210)
An old Baptist preacher liked to preach about heaven, but soon before he passed away he described a troubling dream that was not very pleasant. He dreamed that he had died and was standing before the Pearly Gates. People from his congregation were standing with him, and they were all waiting for the Gates to open wide so they might go in.
After waiting for a while, the preacher called out: “Excuse me -- aren’t you going to let us in?” Silence. The preacher tried to list some reasons why the Gate should be open. “We preached the Gospel. We held Church on Sundays and Wednesdays. We had Bible Studies. We sent money to missions and held clothing drives for the poor. We stayed true to the Faith.” Silence.
Again, he spoke up. “We’re all here, Lord.”
Then, a Voice rumbled from behind the Gates: “No, you’re not.”
The preacher looked around and counted heads. It looked like everyone was there and accounted for. “I think we’re all here. The whole membership is accounted for. Everyone listed in our books -- we’re all here, Lord, I’m sure we didn’t miss anyone.”
The Voice now so deep shook the floor. “Where is Mary? Where is Little Mary?”
Little Mary wasn’t on the books, the preacher thought. Little Mary was too quiet, too shy, too hidden to ever make much of a difference. Little Mary was too shabby -- her clothes were old and out of style. She never spoke up and left before the services were over. Little Mary was just an old frail woman who came to church once in a while and didn’t know anyone else in the Church.
And that’s why no one knew where she was.
“We don’t know where Mary is, Lord. She’s not with us.”
“Go find her.”
“I guess I’ll go back downstairs and look for her.”
“No,” said the Voice, “Not just you. All of you.”
So the entire congregation left the Pearly Gates and climbed back down to the world of trouble, just to find Little lost Mary. They looked for her in Church, but she wasn’t there because she was talked about and criticized. They looked for her in her house, but she wasn’t there because the power had been turned off and the roof was leaking in the rain. They looked for her on the sidewalk, but she wasn’t there because her legs were bad and she could stand and walk anymore. They looked for her in the nursing homes and the hospitals, but she wasn’t there because she could not afford the doctor bills. They looked for her in the shelters and the soup kitchens, because they knew, by now, she was hungry and cold.
She wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere.
Weary and forlorn, they climbed back up the stairs.
“We can’t find her Lord,” the preacher said with a crack in his quivering voice.
“We lost her.”
“Well,” the Voice said, a lot more quietly, “I did not.”
The Gates cracked open a little ways, just enough to let through a young beautiful lass, shining in the Light. She was so beautiful, so bright that the preacher could barely look at her without his heart breaking, for the sheer loveliness and deep majesty.
She walked up to the preacher and his congregation. “I’ve been looking for you,” Little Mary said. “I’m so glad I found you!” And like a glad little girl, she turned to the Pearly Gate and said, “Lord, we’re all here!”
“But Mary,” said the Voice, “You were hungry and they gave you no food. You were thirsty and they gave you nothing to drink. You were a stranger, and you were not taken in. You needed clothing, and you were left in rags. Inasmuch as they failed you, they have failed Me.”
“Lord,” said she, “Today, they are the hungry ones, and thirsty, and estranged and cold. I will not fail them. Inasmuch as I love these my friends, how much more do I love You?”