“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:12
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8
The expression, Hat in hand, is used to indicate an attitude of humility. The only way one can approach Christ is through humility. That is why He was born in a cave. His birthplace compelled the shepherds and the wise men, the ignorant and the learned, to stoop – bend at waist and knee – before entering the cave; thereby coming before the new-born king in the position of the humbled.
My dad passed away in January of 1969. His last Christmas was spent in the hospital battling lung cancer. In choosing a gift for him I sought to get him something special. Not a gift for someone who was facing an end, but rather someone with an eye on a new beginning. My intent was that after he won his battle over cancer this unique gift would be a symbol of a fresh start on a bright new future. That special gift was a fashionable hat. One fit for wall street, not main street. Yet main street was where a common man like my dad was most comfortable. When he opened the gift in the hospital he expressed his enthusiasm as much as the pain from cancer would allow. But, the discomfort he felt could not keep the smile from his face that encouraged and buoyed my spirits and hope. Yet as so often was the case back then, cancer would have its way and take my father from us soon after the New Year. His new hat was placed beside him when he was laid to rest.
When one approaches the age that impels thoughts of mortality, one wonders what lies beyond the veil of this life. Some think nothing. But, the reasonable man at least has doubt. Men of faith know that no explanation is necessary, and for those who lack faith no explanation is sufficient – St. Thomas Aquinas. With that being said, I know my father had faith. He was not a regular church goer, but exhibited an understanding between right and wrong. And acted accordingly. He maintained a reverential relationship with God. A relationship that must have tightened significantly when I was stricken with polio at age four. When we lose loved ones we may wonder what they experienced when accountability comes due. What follows is an imaginative face-to-face between my dad – as I knew him to be – and Jesus, at dad’s final judgment.
Dad stands before Jesus with his head down and new hat in hand; a natural stance when the imperfect is before the perfect. The final evaluation that will determine his eternal life now begins.
Jesus: “What do you have there Anthony?” Dad, without looking up: “It is a hat that my son gave to me as a Christmas gift.” Jesus: “It is a handsome hat at that.” “Is it a style of hat that you often wore?” Dad: “No Lord. As a matter of fact I seldom wore hats. So it was a surprise to me that he gave it to me.” Jesus: “Your son gave you that hat because you are special to him. That hat represents his love. Your son loved you for the sacrifices in life that you made on his behalf. It is in that sacrifice that I see myself in you. That love born of sacrifice has won you my mercy.” Jesus continues: “I see upon you the blemishes of sins that have not yet been amended while on earth. Justice must be satisfied, Anthony, before my mercy can be given. With that understood, I must now send you away for a while to a place to have those blemishes removed so that you will then be worthy to be in My Father’s presence. The prayers of your son and of others who love you will accelerate that purification process. So, go now and be cleansed until I call you home.”
As dad turns from Jesus to go and fulfill His command, Jesus asks a favor of him.
Dad stops and turns to address Jesus’ request; “Anything Lord. What will you have me do?” Jesus: “When I call you home, I want you to wear your hat.” Dad: “My hat, Lord?” Jesus: “Yes Anthony, wear your hat. For as my crown of thorns, through an act of sacrificial love, became My Crown Of Glory, so will your hat likewise be transformed.” Dad, with a smile and a depth of gratitude that no mortal could fathom, replied: “As you wish, Lord.”
My dad, as we all, lived in a world that can make or break a soul. We will all have our moment before Christ at the threshold of Heaven. Admittance is granted, delayed or denied. Elated are those whose hearts are in line with the heart of God. How closely we have followed God’s will over our own in the course of our lives will determine the measure of Christ’s mercy. A heart, although in the state of grace, may still have the stains of past sins left not amended. The prayers and good works of loved one’s yet to be called to their own judgment can hasten entrance to heaven for those souls who Christ has determined deserving.