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Excerpted from Friendship with God by Neale Donald Walsch. Copyright 1999 by Neale Donald Walsch. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"I cried every night, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. To this day, I have a fixation with sudden death."

Neale Donald Walsch, Friendship with God, Part 3

Somewhere in the early fifties I heard the story of the children of Fatima. This is a village in central Portugal, north of Lisbon, where the Blessed Virgin was said to have appeared on repeated occasions to a young girl and her two cousins. Here's what I was told about that:

The Blessed Virgin gave the children a Letter to the World, which was to be hand delivered to the Pope. He, in turn, was to open it and read its contents, but then reseal the letter, revealing its message to the public years later, if necessary.

The Pope was said to have cried for three days after reading this letter, which was said to contain terrible news of God's deep disappointment in us, and details of how He was going to have to punish the world if we didn't heed this final warning and change our ways. It would be the end of the world, and there would be moaning and gnashing of teeth and unbelievable torment.

God, we were told in catechism, was angry enough to inflict the punishment right then and there, but was having mercy on us and giving us this one last chance, because of the intercession of the Holy Mother.

The story of Our Lady of Fatima filled my heart with terror. I ran home to ask my mother if it was true. Mom said that if the priests and nuns were telling us this, it must be so. Nervous and anxious, the kids in our class pelted Sister about what we could do.

"Go to Mass every day," she advised. "Say your rosary nightly and do the Stations of the Cross often. Go to confession once a week. Do penance, and offer your suffering up to God as evidence that you have turned from sin. Receive Holy Communion. And say a Perfect Act of Contrition before going to sleep each night, so that if you are taken before you wake, you'll be worthy of joining the saints in heaven."

Actually, it never occurred to me that I might not live 'til morning until I was taught the childhood prayer...

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

A few weeks of that and I was afraid to go to bed. I cried every night, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. To this day, I have a fixation with sudden death. Often when I leave the house for a flight out of town -- or sometimes when I go to the grocery store -- I'll say to my wife Nancy, "If I don't come back, remember that the last words I said to you were 'I love you.' " It's become a running joke, but there's a tiny piece of me that's dead serious.

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