Liberated, he felt himself moving free, as a spirit. Easily, he moved upward, leaving behind the police and ambulance sirens below, as rescue workers rushed to the scene.
Ahead of him, he could see the purest of white light streaming from a tunnel that loomed in the sky above him.
In the depths of his soul he felt a peace he had never felt before, a peace he had always longed to feel. He was happy to be free of his broken body and he felt no sorrow at leaving his life behind.
As he entered the tunnel, the luminescence surrounded him. He held his hands in front of his face and turned them so he could see his palms. He was intact. He felt his legs and they too were fine. He was uninjured.
He wondered, Why am I surprised?
Then the car crash flashed back to him in horrific detail.
He had been at the wheel of his car, applying the brakes as hard as he could. He had just come around a sharp curve to find ahead of him two semi-trucks jackknifed together in a multiple-vehicle wreck that blocked both lanes of the interstate.
As if watching a movie, he saw himself behind the wheel of his car, screaming and bracing for the impact. At sixty-five miles per hour, the hood of his car crushed back upon him like an accordion. The impact was a more powerful jolt than he had ever imagined possible.
An unexpected summer thunderstorm had sent a driving rain down on the highway and he should have known to slow down, but he was preoccupied, lost in thought, totally unaware of the oil on the highway that had turned slick in the rain, causing the trucks ahead of him to collide and jackknife, setting off a chain reaction of a dozen more vehicles.
Yes, that afternoon, Father Paul Bartholomew, a Catholic priest, died.
The police report would read that he was killed in a motor vehicle accident at 3:35 p.m. ET on August 15.
He died on the operating room table after the horrific car crash he suffered while driving that Sunday afternoon to the cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, where he had spent summers as a boy.
But now all that seemed like a dream. The luminescence in the tunnel surrounded him like a fog and he felt drawn to move forward.
As he approached the end of the tunnel, he could see people milling about. Strangely, they all seemed to be floating with the light and the fog enveloping them. Vaguely he thought he could detect friends and relatives who had been dead now for many years.
Suddenly, he was thrilled to see his mother coming forward to embrace him. His mother had died ten years earlier of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive nerve disease in which the brain loses the ability to move the body’s muscles. The disease took five years to kill her and in the last two months of her life her paralysis increased to near total.
Paul at that time was on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was the youngest physicist ever to be asked to join the esteemed institute. Before his mother’s illness, Dr. Bartholomew was considered one of the most promising young physicists in the world.
When his mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, his life was shattered. Six months before she died, he moved his mother out of the hospital and brought her back home, where he hired nurses around the clock to care for her. As his mother’s paralysis became complete in her final days of life, the institute gave Bartholomew a leave of absence. He never left his mother’s side until she died; he moved a small cot into her room so he could take care of her in the middle of the night. He prayed that God would take him and spare his mother.
Then, as she went into a coma, he spent hours at her bedside, holding her hand, trying to communicate with her one last time. In the middle of the night, as she took her final labored breaths, Bartholomew wiped her brow with a cold cloth, trying to ease her pain. When she died, he felt desolate and abandoned, his tears unable to bring her back or express his pain. At her funeral, Bartholomew wished there was a way he could join her in death, and he would have, except he felt it was against God’s law for him to commit suicide.
The death of his mother marked a turning point in Bartholomew’s life. What kept him going was a determination to understand what his life was about. Why was he here on earth in this here and now? He had no ready answer.
In the depths of his crisis, he railed against God for taking from him the only person in his life who truly understood him. As he grieved his loss, he realized he had gone into physics in an attempt to find God, and now, with the despair he felt with his mother gone, he was ending up with nothing. Regardless of how brilliant he had been in science, having received his Ph.D. from Princeton when he was only twenty-five years-old, the death of his mother made him realize that God could not be found in a particle accelerator or a quantum equation. The head of the physics department was shocked when Bartholomew came into his office and announced he had decided to resign from the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study.
“What do you mean you want to resign?” asked Dr. Horton Silver, himself a renowned physicist and Bartholomew’s most trusted advisor at the university. “Your appointment at the Institute is an appointment for life. Your particle physics work has broken new ground internationally. You can’t resign.”
Dr. Silver was right. Bartholomew was on the verge of a major theoretical breakthrough dealing with one of the most important unanswered mysteries that had eluded the most brilliant minds in physics since Einstein had been at the very same institute. Bartholomew had spent the last three years developing a series of equations that Silver felt were the most promising approach he had yet seen to explain the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, a quantum physics problem: if the position of a particle were known, its momentum could not be determined with precision. Dr. Silver believed Bartholomew would solve the problem and that if he abandoned physics now, it might be decades before another physicist emerged who was brilliant enough to tackle the problem and advance beyond the progress Bartholomew had made.
Silver refused to accept Bartholomew’s decision. Instead he insisted that Bartholomew take some time off to get himself back together emotionally. They had known each other since Bartholomew was an undergraduate in one of Silver’s advanced physics courses at Princeton. He encouraged Bartholomew to pursue graduate studies in physics and when Bartholomew was accepted as a graduate student in physics, Silver became his advisor.
“Your leaving physics will be a great loss both to physics and to the institute,” Silver insisted. “Travel. Go to Europe for a few months. You need some time to grieve. When you get back, you’ll be ready to resume your work.”
“I’ve made my decision and it’s final,” Bartholomew explained to Dr. Silver. “I have come to the conclusion that I have made all the contributions to physics that I want to make.”
“What do you mean? You’re already famous and you’re not yet at the height of your career.”
“That may be, but my decision is final.”
Dr. Silver finally had to accept the fact that he could not change Bartholomew’s mind.
“What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” he asked. “You’re a young man, not yet forty years old. You can’t mourn your mother for the rest of your life.”
“I’ve decided to go into the priesthood,” Bartholomew said without hesitation. “I have come to the conclusion that I have to find God and that physics isn’t going to get me there.”
Silver was flabbergasted. “So, you’re dropping out altogether then?”
“No,” Bartholomew protested. “I’m not dropping out. It’s just the opposite. I think for the first time in my life I know what I’m doing. My mother always told me that I had a vocation for the priesthood and I had never believed her. If she communicated anything to me in the last days of her life, even if it was just with her eyes before she went into a coma, she was telling me I had to find God. She always said I was born to do something in my life more important than physics. Now I believe her.”
The day of the car accident was a Sunday. After saying Mass that morning at his parish, St. Joseph’s on New York City’s Upper East Side, he drove over to his mother’s grave site in Morristown, New Jersey. He brought fresh flowers to place on her grave, as he always did. Kneeling at his mother’s grave that morning, he prayed for her soul and asked God once more that he might join her soon.
Little did Bartholomew realize, as he left the cemetery in Morristown to head up to his cabin, that this was to be the last day of his life.
Now, surrounded by the luminescence in what he imagined must be Heaven, Bartholomew and his mother embraced for what seemed the longest time, thrilled to be reunited.
“Come with me, Paul,” his mother said. “There’s someone else who has been waiting here for you, along with me.”
She took his hand and together they approached a man seated at a table.
Bartholomew felt this man was the oldest and wisest man he had ever seen. His hair and beard were flowing with silver and his eyes were the softest and most understanding blue eyes Bartholomew had ever seen.
Entering the Ancient One’s presence and returning his gaze, Bartholomew felt pouring toward him an unqualified love and acceptance he had never imagined possible. For the first time, he felt at home.
“We have a special place prepared here for you,” the Ancient One said lovingly.
Bartholomew looked around him and he was aware of legions of other souls who were on every side of them, listening and watching intently.
“You are free to stay here forever,” the silver-haired Ancient One continued. “This is your home and you never have to leave.”
Bartholomew himself was now listening intently, sensing there was more.
“If you choose to stay here with us, you will always feel as happy and fulfilled as you do right now.”
“But you have a choice,” the wise man said seriously. “If you choose to return to earth and resume your life there, I will give you an important mission that I believe only you can accomplish. The mission is more important than I can explain to you. The future of human beings on earth hinges on whether you can manage to convey the message I will entrust to you to convey.”
“What message is that?” Bartholomew asked.
“ It’s a message my son Jesus embedded in this burial cloth after his crucifixion,” the Ancient One explained. “The cloth is known as the Shroud of Turin. Even though the gospels of the New Testament tell the story of Jesus’ life and death, Jesus never wrote a book. The Shroud of Turin is his book, a codex in which a message for humanity was buried in the cloth, along with the body of my son. Deciphering that message for the world will be your mission if you choose to return to life.”
“I’m not sure I understand fully what you mean,” Bartholomew said with honest humility.
“I don’t expect you to understand now,” the Ancient One acknowledged. “But if you accept this mission, what you experience will bring forward to the world a new understanding of themselves and of the divine.”
Bartholomew felt torn. He had just been reunited with his mother and it pained him terribly to think he would be separated from her once again. He looked at his mother for advice. “I don’t want to leave you ever again,” he said from his heart.
“The choice is yours, son,” she said lovingly. “Either way, if you return to earth or choose to stay here, we will always be together.”
“If you do choose to return,” the Ancient One explained, “I will bring forth people to work with you, each selected for a particular reason. You will be given certain gifts that will bring to you the attention of the world. Your mother will return to be with you to help you accomplish your mission. Trust that I will enlighten those I send to you. To understand what is happening to you, it will be necessary to unravel the Shroud codex, the message I have imprinted into the burial cloth of my Son, waiting for the world to decipher.”
Bartholomew listened intently, not at all sure he comprehended
What he was being told.
“If you choose to return to your life, you will be fulfilling the destiny for which you were created,” the Ancient one continued. “But you will not experience adulation or earthly riches. Instead, you will suffer much pain. You will be disbelieved, rejected, and scorned by Church authorities as well as millions of people who no longer believe in anything or anyone higher than themselves. But if you do return to earth, as I am asking you to do, what you do there will be written here with me in eternity.”
Bartholomew looked at his mother and their eyes met.
“What should I do, Mother?” he asked.
Right then, his mother took both his hands in hers and a brilliant flash of light surrounded them.
Bartholomew felt a surge of energy, as if he and his mother were being rushed through a warp in time to a distant dimension. Swirling around them was what seemed a blur of stars. He felt as if they were passing through distant galaxies on the way to what felt like another dimension.
Transported in space and time, Bartholomew looked around to find he was standing on a hill outside a city with his mother at his side. They were dressed in robes and wearing sandals. It felt like ancient times. He had no idea what had just happened.
“Where are we?” he asked his mother.
Looking around, he saw little that was familiar, but he thought the overall landscape looked like a place he had been in before. Then he recognized the cream-colored limestone that he knew to be distinct to Jerusalem.
He had visited the Holy Land twice and both times he had stayed at a hotel with a view of the walls of Jerusalem. He had loved watching the daylight from dawn to sunset as it delicately changed the limestone walls of the old city from a soft pale yellow at dawn to a rich red rose at sundown.
Just then he was startled to realize that he and his mother were standing outside the walls of Jerusalem at Golgotha on the very day Christ was crucified. If this was Jerusalem two thousand years ago, how did they get there?
In front of him, everything was happening as if they were there, at the hour of Jesus Christ’s death. In front of Paul and his mother was Jesus nailed to the cross, with a criminal crucified on either side of him.
The agony that Christ was suffering overwhelmed Bartholomew as he observed the details of the crucifixion --- the nails that fixed his wrists and feet to the cross, the beating Jesus had taken, the crown of thorns.
Christ struggled to raise his head from his chest. He looked up toward Bartholomew and his mother. Their eyes met.
“Bartholomew.” Jesus spoke in recognition.
“My Lord,” Bartholomew replied, feeling a sorrow deeper than he had ever before imagined possible. “I am here.”
“I knew you would never abandon me,” Jesus said with infinite love.
As Jesus spoke these words, his mother held Paul’s hand even more tightly.
She turned to him, wanting to know his decision. “Understand only that I have always been with you in spirit,” she explained, “even in death. You were born with a mind gifted to grapple brilliantly with complex issues of time and space. By the time of my death, you had reached the height of your work as a physicist. My death was destined by God to force you to accept the vocation to the priesthood I always knew you had. The last and greatest part of your destiny remains before you, if you choose to return to earth as God has asked you to do.”
Paul listened, not sure he understood.
“When you return to earth, you must see yourself as a messenger from God, across time and space,” she said with all her heart. “What exactly is the Ancient One asking me to do?” Bartholomew asked his mother. “I’ve studied the Shroud of Turin for much of my life, but there are many scientists who have worked on the Shroud for decades. I’m not one of them. How can I possibly explain to the world the message of the Shroud of Turin when I’m not one of the top experts in the field?”
“As the Ancient One said, if you return to earth, the right people will come forth so your life can unlock for the world the Shroud codex. You won’t need to be a top scientific expert on the Shroud. Your life and what you experience back on earth will force the world to decipher the message Jesus left in that burial cloth. Also, as the Ancient One promised, I will return to earth as well, to assist you.”
“How is that possible?” Paul asked. “You have died.”
“And so have you,” she pointed out. “Yet God has given you the grace to return to life. If you accept this mission, God will grant the same grace to me as well.”
At that instant, Bartholomew made his decision. “I don’t know if I understand any of this,” he said truthfully, “but I will do as you and God ask me to do.”
She embraced him warmly.
“May your destiny be fulfilled,” she prayed.
Silently, Paul prayed the same.
“I must warn you that once you are back on earth, you must be patient,” she explained. “Now that you have agreed, the Ancient One gave me permission to explain to you that you will experience three years of rehabilitation before your mission begins. This is the time you will need to rebuild your body after the car accident that caused your death.”
Bartholomew listened intently.
“From the moment your body begins manifesting the passion and death of Jesus that you see here before you today, your mission will be accomplished in thirty days. I will join you on earth and you will recognize that I have returned, though others will not be permitted to know precisely who I am or why I have returned.
On the thirtieth day, we will be reunited again, here in the loving presence of God, this time to stay forever.”
“As you say, Mother,” Paul said, accepting his fate as she explained it to him.
The next thing Bartholomew knew, he was moving back through time and space. Suddenly he saw, from above, his body lying on an operating table in the hospital. He still felt outside his body, as if he were hovering above, an unencumbered spirit looking down at a scene below that really didn’t concern him.
The doctors and nurses were working frantically to save his life, but all the monitors had flatlined.
One of the doctors moved forward and prepared to give Bartholomew a cardiac shock with a defibrillator.
On the second try, Bartholomew felt himself jolted back in his body.
He was alive once more, gasping for breath.
Back in his body, the pain was overwhelming.
Quietly he slipped from consciousness as the doctors and nurses frantically resumed their efforts to save his life.
Excerpted from THE SHROUD CODEX © Copyright 2011 by Jerome R. Corsi. Reprinted with permission by Threshold Editions. All rights reserved.