In a poor and desolate town such as where Father Ignatius was stationed it was evident that he would meet a lot of hardship amongst his parishioners, especially in difficult economic conditions where jobs were scarce and business closures rife.
One day a young man came to him complaining that he couldn’t get a good job and he felt a bit down because of lack of prospects at the factory where he did menial tasks.
Of course, the priest sympathized with him. It is good to see someone with ambitions wishing to better himself and get on in life. Yet, put in its true perspective, there were many others with no jobs at all and living literally in poverty.
Father Ignatius wished to convey this message to the young man, but he had to do it gently and without being critical of someone hoping to improve a bad circumstance.
He sat down on his chair behind his desk and looked at the young man in the face for a second or two and then asked:
“Have you got all your own teeth?”
The young man was taken aback at this unexpected and somewhat irrelevant question.
“Ehm … yes …” he mumbled.
“All your teeth hein?” repeated the priest, “no false teeth or dentures?”
“Yes …” said the man.
“That’s good … Just like me” said Father Ignatius pensively, “I have all my own teeth. No false ones. I’ve been lucky that way!”
After a few moments of silence the young man asked, “What has that to do with what we were talking about Father?”
“Oh … I was just thinking …” remarked Father Ignatius, “there’s plenty of talk about grinding and gnashing of teeth in the Bible.
“I wondered what would happen to those people with no teeth. Would they get given dentures do you think?”
The young man was now more puzzled than ever and thought the priest was perhaps getting a little senile.
Father Ignatius smiled and asked “Are you in good health?”
“Yes I am …” said the man emphatically.
“In good health … and doing a menial job at the factory! It’s good to want to improve yourself. You live in a rented apartment do you not?”
“Yes I do … not far from the church!” said the man.
“Oh yes … I forgot,” said the priest, “and you go regularly to church too. That’s good. And you help with the Youth Club we run here. That’s very commendable you know.”
The young man smiled.
“Let’s try to recap,” said Father Ignatius gently, “you’re young, fit and healthy too, you live in an apartment nearby, work at the factory on the East side of town, doing menial jobs as you say … You go to church … A good Catholic lad I suppose … I also know you have a red bicycle. I’ve seen you cycle to church. And you help with our youth work … And to top it all you have all your own teeth … mustn’t forget the teeth!”
The young man smiled again as he understood what the priest was saying.
“You see …” continued Father Ignatius, “life is very hard for many people these days. And I don’t decry your wish to do better for yourself. That’s very laudable.
“But when we pray to God, let us thank Him for what we have rather than bemoan what we haven’t!
“He knows our situation and He’ll certainly take care of us.”
The young man went away much wiser than he came and very grateful for his lot.