Sunday, 28 February 2010
There are times in life when similar events happen in close proximity to each other and we’re left to wonder whether it’s only a mere coincidence, or a God incidence. Maybe the Almighty is telling us something, or leading us in a certain direction perhaps.
A few days after Father Ignatius witnessed one of his parishioners shoplifting from the local supermarket, he had occasion to witness something else similar which taxed his tact and diplomacy, not to say his duties and responsibilities as a priest.
He was at the local Grand Hotel for an Ecumenical Meeting of a number of churches in town. As the meeting broke up for a coffee break he approached the Reception Desk to ask the attendant where the phone booth was located. It was then that he noticed, quite by accident, one of his parishioners, a man in his early fifties, sitting at a table in the lounge with a young lady well half his age.
At first he thought nothing of it; but when he returned from the phone booth it occurred to him that the parishioner was unusually well dressed in a smart suit. Not the sort of attire he’d seen him wear in church; not even on a Sunday. Granted the man was well dressed when he attended Mass with his wife and children, but never in a suit, just casual clothes.
“Perhaps he’s here on business” said the priest to himself, as he dispelled any thoughts from his mind; no doubt planted there by the devil just to tease him.
An hour or so later, when all the priests and vicars gathered together in the large dining room for lunch, Father Ignatius noticed the parishioner and his young lady companion having lunch at a corner table. The waiter had just opened a bottle of wine and was serving them.
The priest mingled with other Conference delegates and sat at a table as far away as he could, just by the window facing the car park.
He tried to concentrate on the business in hand and discuss Ecumenical matters with the other delegates; but the devil must have been particularly mischievous that day as he bombarded Father Ignatius with all kind of thoughts.
As the waiter offered him a cup of coffee at the end of the meal Father Ignatius noticed through the window the couple wave for a taxi. As the cab approached, the man hugged the young lady tightly and kissed her on the cheek. He then waved her good-bye as the taxi drove off, and blew a kiss in her direction. It all happened so quickly that the priest could not believe what he had seen.
“Aha …” said the devil in his ear, “who are you going to believe now? Me or your eyes?”
This encounter at the hotel preyed on Father Ignatius’ mind all day. It could all be a perfectly innocent situation, easily explainable, he convinced himself. But the devil would have none of it and continued pestering him with alternative scenarios.
That evening he broached the subject with Father Donald as they sat for their meal.
“Suppose you suspect one of the parishioners is doing something wrong Donald, what would you do about it?” he asked innocently.
“Well … it depends what they were doing …” replied his colleague in his broad Scottish accent.
“OK … last week for instance I saw a parishioner shop-lifting … I said nothing at the time … but dealt with it during Confession …”
“Seems fine to me … I would probably have done the same …” said Father Donald.
“Let me then give you another example … suppose for instance you suspected a married man was cheating on his wife … what would you do then? Would you confront him with it and tell him it’s wrong?”
“Where I come from in Scotland you would probably get a Glasgow kiss resulting in a broken nose or worse, if you did that,” chuckled Father Donald.
“So we look the other way … we condone a sin … is that it?”
“It’s a fact of life Ignatius … modern lifestyles and all that … we may not like it but we can’t do much about it … People will sin … just as well I say, otherwise they’d get us out of business …” Father Donald laughed heartily
“Seriously though …” continued Father Ignatius, “is it not incumbent upon us to put them straight when they err … is that not our duty as priests?”
“What I like about you Ignatius is that you’re a very kind sort of person … you have this great ability to empathize … you feel for the other person and you’d do anything to help them … to keep them from the wrong path and to lead them to salvation … I’m more pragmatic I suppose … I’ll let them sin and absolve them when they ask me to …” joked Father Donald.
He was only joking, of course, because in reality Father Donald cared for his flock deeply.
“You know …” continued Father Ignatius after a short pause, “we priests have a huge responsibility towards our Lord. Because when we get to meet Him He’ll ask us how we led those He put in our care. It won’t be a question of how many Ecumenical meetings we’ve attended, or how many confessions we heard; but how many of those He sent us we have led safely to Heaven.
“Let’s say for instance a priest faces God and it is found that only 1 % of the people he had in his care throughout his priesthood made it to Heaven.
“What will God say then? A good and faithful servant, or a shepherd who has lost most of his sheep?
“And that’s the responsibility we owe God when we take on our vocation.”
The few seconds of silence which followed spoke volumes in their minds as they mulled over the situation.
Father Ignatius pondered the dilemma of the modern day priest compared to the preaching of John the Baptist who reproached his King so much that he lost his head. Or to the teachings of St Paul never shying away from telling it as it is.
Yet somehow … times change and it takes a very brave priest indeed to approach a parishioner and tell him that what he is doing is wrong. Or indeed to speak out against the wrongdoings of society.
“I wonder …” he thought to himself, “has any priest ever refused to absolve someone in the confessional?”
The following Sunday Father Ignatius was surprised to see the parishioner in question with his wife and the young lady attending Mass.
After Mass the young lady was introduced as the man’s niece visiting from France. She’d been staying secretly at the hotel and plotting a surprise Wedding Anniversary holiday in Paris for her uncle and aunt. That very evening the whole family had gathered at the hotel to celebrate their 25th Anniversary together with other relatives who had traveled from near and far.