Sunday, 31 January 2010
There’s always a fine line, almost invisible, where a priest should get involved in politics or stand back and keep his nose out.
Father Ignatius was well aware of that, especially in this desolate town which had suffered more than most in the economic downturn, with unemployment higher than the national average and poverty affecting a large number of the population harsher than ever before.
The situation was exacerbated by the news of the closure of a local factory employing many of his parishioners. The workers and their families were devastated. The effects of the dismissals of employees would be felt by the whole local economy as their spending power is reduced. The unions were up in arms and encouraged strikes; which of course would solve nothing in the long run. Parishioners turned to Father Ignatius, perhaps hoping for Divine intervention and some sort of miracle to save their jobs.
Father Ignatius decided to address the matter head on, even though he risked being accused of playing politics. He stood up at the lectern on Sunday and said:
“I have often wondered whether as a priest I am a man of God, serving Him on this earth, or whether I am a man of politics, serving my community.
“Or perhaps a bit of both.
“I am well aware of the difficulties facing many of you by the factory closure announced this week. I know full well the extent of hardship which this community has undergone in the past few years.
“One of you said to me the other day that life is a series of failures punctuated by disappointments.
“I repeat … a series of failures punctuated by disappointments.
“Is this what God wants for you?
“Does He want to see you struggle and fail and to endure life every inch of the way until death relieves you of your suffering?
“I think not.
“God wants us to enjoy life as best we can; as simply we can … even in our poverty, our ill-health, or old age … God wants us to rejoice and find a glimmer of hope in every situation … for without hope there is nothing.
“I have asked myself what God wants me to do in this situation. Am I to get involved in politics and speak out about decisions taken by those in authority? Or should I keep quiet and try to help you as best I can on an individual basis?
“Jesus faced a similar dilemma when asked about paying taxes. He did not hesitate to state clearly His opinions on the matter. Christ lived in very political times. His country was occupied by the Romans. Several people saw Him as a new ruler come to overthrow their oppressors. The Pharisees and Sadducees saw Him as a threat to their positions and authority. Yet, He was not afraid to speak out, especially when He saw wrongdoings and evil in society.
“I believe that today there are times when a priest must speak out when he sees something wrong contradicting God’s Word and His teachings. Like abortion for instance and Government’s legislation on the matter.
“It would be remiss in such situations for a priest to say nothing and look the other way.
“I believe the financial situation we are all facing has now gone beyond party politics. There seems to be no right or wrong answer in sight, at least not to me, a simpleton in these matters.
“The factory closure will affect many of you and I cannot add much to the debate by pious statements and opinions. But at the very least, I offer my services in any way possible … perhaps as a start, by calling a meeting here at the church center on Monday for all parishioners affected … let us discuss calmly the various issues facing us and see whether there’s anything we can do …”
And that’s precisely what happened. The meeting clarified the extent of the problem. Father Ignatius led a small team of employees to seek a solution and, to cut a long story short, together with his contacts in town with several banks, he managed to put together an employee-led buy-out by some workers backed by financial loans from the banks.
The factory was saved, some but not all jobs were saved, and the newly born business took the first faltering steps towards a promising future.
Father Ignatius’ tentative steps in getting involved in local politics were rewarded with success; small as it may be. Not by anything he had done, but by his unfailing Faith that he would be led by the Holy Spirit to say and do what is right.
Friday, 29 January 2010
Father Ignatius’ policy with the people he met was to be as open and honest as possible when discussing matters or when giving advice or guidance. This included the youngsters he met at both Catholic schools, who, more often than not, asked direct personal questions and expected a straight answer. They were astute enough to know when someone was avoiding the question or giving them flannel.
The discussion during Catechism class was about vocations and the celibacy of priests and nuns.
Father Ignatius had been asked by a young pupil why priests and nuns are celibate.
“Let me see if I can answer this honestly and in personal terms,” said Father Ignatius. “There is, as you know a physical life which we all live right now, and a spiritual life which some people choose to follow at the same time.
“God wants us to enjoy our physical life and for us to live it in service of others so that He may be glorified by what we do. This can be done by being married and raising families and also indeed by remaining single in life.
“People who choose to follow a spiritual life, like Catholic priests and nuns, promise to remain chaste and not get married.”
“Like Jesus …” interrupted one of the 15 year-old students, “why did Jesus never marry?”
“That’s a good question.” Replied Father Ignatius, “in my opinion, I believe that Christ’s mission on earth was so important that He could not allow anything else to detract Him from His main objective.
“As you know, Jesus came to teach us about His Father’s Word; but more important than that; He came to offer Himself in sacrifice by dying on the Cross so that we may be reconciled with God.
“If, as you suggest, He would have married, and perhaps have children, this would have in many ways sidetracked His main mission on earth. But that’s only my opinion.”
“Do you think He ever wanted to get married?” asked another student innocently.
“Being human, I suspect He was not immune to the many feelings and emotions we experience. Yet, being God at the same time, His job on earth was to obey His Father and take on the ultimate sacrifice for us on the Cross.
“He always knew what his mission on earth was and how He would die on the Cross. And although He was tempted before His arrest, and He prayed to God that His ordeal may pass Him by, He knew and accepted that ultimately He had to obey His Father’s will; and that nothing should deflect Him from it.”
“Is it the same with priests,” asked Rose, “is their mission to teach about God and not get married. And to obey the Pope?”
“Father John got married,” corrected Paul, “he left the church and got married. Should he have done that Father?”
“It is not for me to judge what Father John did. Jesus told us never to judge each other,” replied Father Ignatius.
“Father John decided to leave the priesthood and to get married. I’m certain that he did not make this decision lightly. He must have agonized and soul-searched for a long time before deciding to leave his vocation as a priest. Which, I must add, he undertook in an exemplary manner in his time as a priest. Yet, eventually he decided to do what he felt was right for him at the time.”
“Have you ever wanted to get married and have children?” asked directly a pupil sitting up front.
The rest of the class gasped at what they felt was an impertinent question. Father Ignatius smiled and responded calmly.
“It would be a lie to deny it. Many people would like to have a family and raise children, especially if they are as well turned out as you.”
They smiled almost in unison.
“But when I decided to become a priest, I knew full well what I was giving up. Sharing my life with and loving another person, and raising a family, is a great privilege.
“Matrimony is a Sacrament which Christ taught about several times. It is a mission and a full commitment which married couples undertake throughout their lives together.
“However, by becoming a priest I promised and accepted that I would not get married.
“Having made that decision, God has rewarded me by making me a member of all your families here in this Parish.
“You and your parents have welcomed me in your homes as one of your family. I have been privileged to have been invited for meals with many of you at home. I have shared with your families moments of happiness and moments of sorrows too. I have seen many of you grow from little babies whom I have baptized many years ago, to who you are now.
“I am grateful to God and to you for welcoming me in your families.”
“Should everybody get married then,” asked Mark, “except for priests and nuns?”
“Married life is a Sacrament which we should take seriously and it is the best foundation in which to raise a family. But no, not everyone has to get married.
“Remember that God’s wish for you in this life is for you to be happy.
“Some people find happiness in marriage, others prefer to remain single. Celibacy can be a vocation too. Just like marriage.
“I have found that being single allows many people the time to do more for their communities and for the church. Things they would not have been able to do if married; when their main commitments should be to their families first.
“I have just returned from America as you know. I met there a young priest from Houston in Texas. He was brought up in a loving Catholic family and something he said to me still sticks in my mind,
“He said, ‘the way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!’
“His sister is a nun, whilst his other sisters are married and raising their families.
“So you see … his lovely parents created the conditions whilst raising their family that two of their children chose a vocation in the Church whilst the others are raising their children in the same Christian tradition their parents taught them.
“Whether you are married or not, a priest or a nun or not; the important thing that really matters is to live your life in the service of others and to glorify God at every opportunity.”
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
The phone rang one evening as Father Ignatius was watching football on TV. It was Father Frederick from Bishop’s House.
“Hello Ignatius are you well?”
The preliminary greetings over, Father Ignatius was keen to find out the reason for the call. After all, it isn’t everyday that the Bishop rings a lowly priest such as he.
“I’m sorry to tell you that Monsignor Thomas is not well … he’s in hospital right now …”
Father Ignatius knew the Monsignor from way back as they trained together for the priesthood in Rome. He hadn’t seen him for a while and the news of his illness came as quite a shock.
“Oh don’t worry it’s nothing serious. He sprained an ankle as he fell down the stairs,” declared Father Frederick nonchalantly. “Anyway … are you doing anything on Tuesday? Thomas was due to go to a Conference and deliver a Keynote Speech on behalf of the Bishop … now he can’t make it he suggested you go instead!”
“Keynote speech … well … I’ve never given a speech … and it’s only three days away …” hesitated Father Ignatius.
“Oh I’m sure you’ll do well, the Bishop has every confidence in you … we’ll send you your itinerary and your speech and everything else you’ll need in the morning … Oh it’s in Washington,” interrupted the priest at the other end of the line in his usual casual manner.
“Washington up North?” asked Father Ignatius still in a daze by the sudden turn of events.
“Not Washington in Tyne and Wear … the real Washington old boy … in America …
it’s only for a few days … nothing to it … we’ll send you all the details first thing tomorrow.”
Father Ignatius put the phone down and tried to recall the phone conversation. Had he dreamt what just happened? One minute he was happily watching football on TV the next he’d received his marching orders to go to the other end of the world.
The following morning a special courier delivered a large pouch confirming that it was not all a dream after all. There for him to read were his speech, the programme of the Conference, his air tickets and everything else he needed to complete his mission.
Apparently the Monsignor was due to attend an International Youth Conference to discuss and evaluate various ways of encouraging young men into the priesthood in order to overcome a projected shortfall in vocations.
“Have they thought of praying about it?” mumbled Father Ignatius as he fumbled through the reams of papers on his desk.
Three days later and Father Ignatius was in the States once again. He recalled that the last time he visited America was also, as now, a totally unscheduled and unexpected visit.
His hotel was full of priests mainly from America and Canada and a few from Europe. He was the only one from England and soon discovered that he spoke “with a funny accent”, or so his fellow conference delegates thought.
The itinerary included several trips to tourist venues scheduled by the conference organizers and he was paired with a young priest in his twenties from Houston Texas. The idea was to allow exchange of views and ideas on the way different churches tackled vocations in the priesthood.
Father Ignatius got on very well with this young priest and they discussed quite a lot during the various organized trips and free time they had together.
Father Ignatius learnt how this young farmer’s son, decided to become a priest. Being almost half his own age, the young Texan provided quite an insight into his motivation, outlook, hopes and fears. His Christian up-bringing had played a very important part in his decision to become a priest. So much so that the night before he was to deliver his speech Father Ignatius had an important decision to make.
“Do I deliver the Monsignor’s speech as it has been given to me, or do I tell them also my very own views on vocations and the priesthood?” he asked himself.
He felt that the speech written for him, whilst full of facts and statistics, projections and strategies for the future, lacked the very essence and soul which the young lad from Houston had engendered in his conversations with him.
Here we have a young Catholic boy, one of a family of six, all girls except for him. Brought up on a farm by loving Catholic parents who had endured poverty and hardship over the years, yet they managed to keep the family together, all of whom grew up to be exemplary treasures for their parents to be proud of. One of the young man’s sisters was a nun back in Texas. The others were happily married and raising their children as taught by their parents.
In particular, one phrase from that young priest stuck in Father Ignatius’ mind, “The way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!” he had said in his Texan accent.
“That alone is worthy of a speech,” Father Ignatius thought to himself, “Even though I might deliver it in my funny British accent.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
He said to his listeners that it isn’t the church which selects people to be priests; but it is God Himself.
By the grace of God we all have a mission on this earth. Some parents are given the gift of children by God. Their gift back to God is the way they bring these children up.
They can create the conditions within the family where it becomes inevitable that their sons may become priests, and their daughters nuns. And those children who go on to have their own families may in their turn emulate their parents’ good example.
Nothing should give parents more pride than to see their sons and daughters join the church. And when they get to meet the Good Lord they can look up humbly and say: “I did my best Lord with the children you gifted me.”
He explained to his audience that priests have an important role in this cycle of events by being an example which others might wish to follow.
Priesthood was not a matter of statistics, projections, strategies and plans. Whether or not there were enough vocations in the future was a matter for God and not for planners and strategists.
“We should have enough Faith in God to ensure that His Word is spread on this earth by people chosen by Him. And in so doing, our role is to pray constantly that many will follow in our footsteps as we priests lead by good example,” concluded Father Ignatius.
Before he left for the airport Father Ignatius met up again with the young Texan and gave him a small Crucifix as a souvenir. He thanked him warmly for inspiring him to deliver a speech from the heart which was no doubt remembered by all delegates at the conference.
Monday, 25 January 2010
The first “Any Questions” session held by Father Ignatius in the church center proved so successful that some members of the congregation asked him to hold another one. They enjoyed asking questions about church matters in general and the Catholic Church’s teachings in particular, and learning from both Father Ignatius and Father Donald answering honestly rather than “toeing the party line”; as one parishioner called it.
“Are you sure that the hot chocolate drinks and free cakes aren’t the real attraction here?” asked Father Ignatius.
He was assured that this was not the case and it was agreed to hold another meeting at which parishioners could invite guests.
The night in question was well attended with about sixty people packing the church center and sitting cinema style facing the top table. Father Donald was not available and he was replaced by the Reverend Harold Barnstable, the vicar from a neighbouring church. He knew Father Ignatius well as the two priests were members of the Area Ecumenical Council, a body set up to encourage contact and co-operation amongst churches from various denominations. The Reverend had brought a few parishioners from his church to the meeting with him.
After the first few questions about the benefits of church unity and what obstacles lay in the way of such a goal a young man stood up at the back of the room and said:
“Father Ignatius, I do not attend your church. One thing I can’t understand about you Catholics is your devotion to Mary. Granted, she was the Mother of Jesus, but no more than that. Yet you Catholics pray to her all the time and ask her for favours.
"Christ said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.’ What can be clearer than that? Paul re-iterates this message in his letter to Timothy when he says, ‘there is one God, and there is one mediator who brings God and mankind together, Christ Jesus.’
"I consider devotion to Mary as blasphemy to God. What do you have to say about this?”
The Reverend Barnstable shuffled uneasily in his chair as he recognized the questioner as one of his parishioners. However, he politely looked sideways at Father Ignatius and said nothing.
Father Ignatius smiled and said calmly “I agree …”
This silenced the audience who knew him too well and expected a rebuttal of the points made by the visitor. They were not disappointed. Father Ignatius continued:
“Viewed from you perspective, and considering the Bible quotations you mention, it can be seen as blasphemy to pray to Mary and ask her to mediate for us and present our needs to Jesus, and to God. So let us see your point from a different perspective.
“Let me ask you something first. Have you ever prayed for a sick relative or friend to get better?”
“Well … yes …” hesitated the young man.
“That’s good …” replied Father Ignatius gently, “it shows charitable loving intentions from you towards those people. You didn’t say ‘let them pray for themselves to get better’ but you prayed for them. You mediated on their behalf, or, to put it in more common parlance, you put in a good word for them.
“You said to God ‘Dear Lord … you know my friend is a good chap … please heal him from his illness!’ ”
The audience laughed.
Father Ignatius continued, “By praying for your sick friends you mediated on their behalf. And if it is God’s will, He sometimes answers our prayers.
“In the same way, there’s nothing wrong in my opinion if the Virgin Mary puts in a good word for me with Jesus when I ask her. God knows I need it!”
The audience laughed again.
“You see …” went on the priest, “at the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out, the servants went to Mary for advice and guidance. She was a guest at the wedding, no more. They didn’t go to Jesus direct, or to the bridegroom, or to the best man, if they had such a thing in those days … but they went to Mary.
“She interceded on behalf of the married couple; and Jesus at her request performed His first miracle.
“I believe this to be very significant … is Jesus encouraging us here to ask Mary to mediate for us?
“Some may not agree, but I personally see nothing wrong in asking the Virgin Mary to intercede on my behalf, and I ask her often to do so.
“But let me answer your specific point as to whether my praying to her is blasphemy … as you called it.
“God saw fit to choose this young lady to be the Mother of His only Son. Obviously He holds her in high regards.
“I too … hold her in high regards. This is why I recite the Rosary daily.
“Do you honestly think that when I get to meet God face to face He will punish me for daring to love Mary, the Mother of Jesus? Will God view my honouring her as blasphemy? I think not.
“By praying to her, takes nothing away from my reverence to God and Jesus. Like you, I accept God as my Creator and Jesus as my Saviour; and I also pray to Mary to mediate on my behalf.
“Nothing wrong with that … and certainly no blasphemy intended!”
“I understand …” replied the young man sheepishly.
“It was a good question,” continued Father Ignatius, “but let me get back to your two quotations from the Bible.
“When Jesus said He is the way to God, and when St Paul re-affirmed this, they were referring to Christ as being the Son of God and our Saviour through His sacrifice on the Cross.
“They were not saying that we should not honour the Virgin Mary who holds a high place in Heaven. And no where in the Bible are we told not to pray to her or ask her to mediate on our behalf.
“We’re all sinners, and we need as many friends on the other side as we can muster. I also pray to Saint Ignatius of Loyola after whom I was named.”
Saturday, 23 January 2010
Father Ignatius tried something new with his congregation. He suggested they held an “Any Questions” meeting whereby members of the audience would ask him and Father Donald any question, totally unprepared and unscripted, and they would try to answer it.
It was the first such event held at the church center and that evening in question was well attended. About fifty people turned up, which by all standards was a good attendance on a cold winter evening. Some volunteers had prepared hot chocolate and tea and plenty of cakes had been brought in and enjoyed before the meeting started.
At first the questions were somewhat tentative and easily dealt with by either priest, mainly relating to the running of the church, Mass times in winter, and the diminishing amount received in Sunday collections.
But then a young lady stood up and asked the top table: “May I read something before I ask my question?
“While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an ababaster jar full of very expensive perfume made from pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, ‘What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!’ And they criticized her harshly.
But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me. You will always have poor people with you, and any time you want to, you can help them. But you will not always have me.’
“This is from Mark 14 3-7,” she concluded.
“My question to you Fathers is ‘Why?’” she then asked hesitantly.
“Why what?” asked Father Donald in his broad Glaswegian accent.
“Why did Jesus say ‘You will always have poor people with you?’”
Before either priest could answer a man at the front said; “Good point … Is Jesus saying poverty will be with us always? Is He saying that all our efforts to help the poor are in vain?”
“Might as well not bother,” mumbled another man sitting beside him.
The two priests looked at each other. Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses slowly and said nothing at first.
“Of course we should bother …” declared Father Donald, “it is our duty to help the poor. Jesus was making the point that He would soon be Crucified and gone from the people, whereas the poor will always be with us. Don’t you agree Ignatius?”
“Well …” replied Father Ignatius slowly, “two thousand years later and we still have poverty in this world. So Christ was not far wrong with what He said.
“But let us look at what Jesus said in a wider context.
“Could He perhaps be talking about something more than just material poverty?
“Is He maybe reminding us that there will always be someone worse off than us? Someone who is poor in material things, someone poor in spirit, poor in health, poor in education or even poor in Faith. This may be miss-interpreting Him perhaps but still worth considering.
“We all have a responsibility towards those in poverty in one way or another. No matter how their poverty manifests itself.
“We should always readily recognize our blessings and share them with those less well off than us.
“If we are fortunate to be financially rich, we should give to those who have not.
“If we are in good health, we should help those who are sick. Visit them at home or in hospital, and give a hand when needed.
“If we are clever or intelligent we should be more tolerant towards those not as bright as us and help educate them where we can.
“And if our Faith is strong, we should help and pray for those who falter and fail in their walk with the Lord.”
“Wow … I never saw it this way …” commented the original questioner.
“We’ve all been given some talent or other” added Father Donald, “and we should use them for the benefit of others.”
“So I suppose Jesus could be referring to poverty in the wider sense, as well as physical poverty of course,” continued Father Ignatius, “and such poverty, whatever it may be, will continue with us as a permanent reminder of our responsibilities towards others as well as towards God Himself.
“Our talents are to be used for His glory to help others”
“Talking of talents,” interjected Father Donald, “may I remind you that if any of you has a talent for singing do not confine it to singing in the bath. The choir is always looking for new singers so come along to rehearsals.”
“As long as you don’t bring your bath with you,” chuckled Father Ignatius.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
“We interrupt this programme to bring you a News Flash …” blared the radio in the kitchen.
Father Ignatius stopped his cooking for a minute and listened attentively. There had been a train crash not far from where he lived. Somehow the train was de-railed and fell down a steep embankment into a nearby river. There were a number of casualties as well as many injuries.
The priest rang the emergency number given by the radio announcer to enquire how he might help. He was asked to go to the local hospital to donate blood, and also to help comfort some of the not seriously wounded.
An hour or so later he was consoled that many of the town’s folk had responded to the appeal and a long queue had formed to donate blood.
That disaster had shaken the town’s morale badly. Father Ignatius decided, unconventionally as it might seem, to make the train crash the subject of his sermon on Sunday.
He approached the lectern and said: “Let us pray for the victims and the injured of the train crash which happened a few days ago; as well as for their family and friends.
“This train crash has come as quite a shock to all of us, especially as it comes so close to the tragedy last week when a bus driver lost control of his bus and killed several school children walking on the sidewalk.
“When such disasters happen, some of us get a little confused and ask why God made it happen. Some even blame Him for the disaster believing that a loving God should have prevented it.
“I say … Praise the Lord!”
Father Ignatius paused for a while to allow the murmurs in church to die down.
“I can see from your faces that some of you think I’ve gone mad,” he continued.
“Father Ignatius has lost his marbles … he is a few Hail Mary’s short of a Rosary … his little grey cells have turned to ashes … and whatever other metaphors you wish to make up to describe my sanity or lack of it.
“Of course I recognise and I'm deeply shocked by the terrible tragedies that have befallen this town in the last few days. Especially when we consider as well the severe economic crisis we’re living through and how it is affecting many families facing loss of work and income. And how misery tends to enjoy company and has visited many local communities lately.
“Please don’t misunderstand me … when such disasters happen we must help in every practical way we can.
“But I also wish to ask you to consider this … Where do you think God is when a disaster happens?
“Is He hiding behind the settee cringing in fear at what is happening in the world today? How it’s all gone wrong and He can’t handle it anymore?
“Or is He still in control of all that is happening in the universe?
“When we praise Him, we’re not doing so because of the disaster, but because He is still in control of this and every situation.
“In doing so, we acknowledge His greatness, His omnipotence and that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
“By praising Him, no matter what the situation, we somehow open a channel for His grace to shine upon us and, if it is His will, a good outcome will result from a bad situation.
“The alternative of course is to rebel and blame Him for the bad situation that befalls us. And where will this lead us I ask you?
“How dare we … insignificant minuscule little creatures that we are … how dare we question His will and in so doing distance ourselves from His love and mercy?
“Of course we’re hurt and shocked by what has happened recently and we’re confused. We wouldn’t be humans if we weren’t.
“But I urge you, having prayed for the victims and their families and friends, having helped practically where we can, let us now stand and confidently praise the Lord that He is still in control of everything.”
Monday, 18 January 2010
Friday, 15 January 2010
Father Ignatius was a kind and gentle priest, slow to anger and always jovial; and he always put his parishioners first. That’s why most of them thought nothing of approaching him first when they had a problem, no matter the time of day or night.
Early one morning, before he’d even had time to have breakfast and prepare for morning Mass, the phone rang.
“Father Ignatius … have you seen our Rosemary?” cried a frantic Mrs Butterworth.
“Eh … No … I haven’t seen her … not for a few days or so …” replied the confused priest.
“Father …” continued the voice at the other end holding back the obvious tears “we went to wake her up for school and she was not there. Her bed hasn’t been slept in … Jack is out looking for her … we don’t know where to look … we phoned her friends …”
“One moment Sally …” interrupted the priest who called most of his parishioners by their first name, except the snooty ones of course! “One moment … are you saying she left home last night?”
“We think so …” continued the distraught mother sobbing her heart out on the phone.
Father Ignatius managed to calm her down a little and promised to be there immediately after morning Mass. And yet another of his days had been disrupted from the beginning regardless of whatever plans and arrangements he had made.
An hour or so later he was at the Butterworth’s. The parents were totally heart-broken and in a state of panic. They did not know where their daughter was and whether they’d see her again. Had she left town, had she been abducted, is she safe, is she alive … the questions followed each other each one depicting its own horrific ending to a terrible situation.
When the priest managed to calm them down the couple explained that they had an argument with their fifteen-year old the previous night and her father had told her to go to her room. That’s the last they had seen of her and this morning they discovered that her room had not been slept in and she was no where to be seen.
The priest shared their agony deeply but he felt that he had to remain focused and clear-headed if he were to be of any help.
“Have you contacted the police?” he asked.
“No … we contacted all her friends, our neighbours, and the school … but not the police. Well … we didn’t know whether she’ll just turn up as if nothing happened … we didn’t want to bother them …”
The priest looked at his watch and decided that it was perhaps time to contact the authorities, assuming that is that she’s been missing since the previous night. He stayed with the anguished parents to give them moral support whilst the police asked them several questions and took a lot of details.
By late morning Father Ignatius decided to leave the Butterworths but promised to keep in phone contact every so often in case there was some news. Throughout the day he kept his promise with several phone calls and numerous prayers that the young girl might be found safely. But his every call found them more and more in despair as time passed and no news was heard of their missing daughter.
At about ten o’clock that evening, as he drove back to the church the car headlights caught a dark figure by the garage door. At first he thought it was an intruder, then he thought it was perhaps a homeless person sheltering there waiting for his return to beg for some food; an event which happened quite frequently in this poor and desolate town.
He approached the garage door slowly and to his surprise he recognized the young girl.
“Rosemary … what are you doing here?” he said gently, “your parents are worried sick about you …”
“Please don’t tell them I’m here … I can’t face them just now …” she pleaded.
“You look cold … Come in …”
He let her in and sat her by the fire, then proceeded to the kitchen to prepare her something to eat and a hot drink.
She had calmed down a little by the time he returned with a tray of food.
“Where have you been all this time Rosemary?” he asked calmly.
“I spent last night hiding in alley ways … I was frightened but I did not want to go back home … ever …
“This morning I went to the homeless shelter … no body knows me there … I told them I wanted to volunteer to help and they let me … then I thought I’d come here …” she sobbed.
“I’m glad you did … your parents said you had an argument last night … is that why you left?”
Despite her obvious distress and in between tears she managed slowly to tell him what had caused her to run away.
Quite by accident, she had discovered that she was not the natural daughter of the Butterworths. It seems that she was born in another town and was adopted there as a baby before they moved here to start a new life. They had told no one of the adoption and kept it a secret all these years until yesterday when she overheard her parents talking in the kitchen.
Father Ignatius listened calmly throughout and silently prayed for this family torn apart by love.
“Tell me Rosemary …” he asked when she finished talking, “all the time you grew up with your parents, did you at any time suspect that you were adopted?”
“No … how could I?”
“And you see my child …” he continued soothingly, “that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make. You never suspected anything. And that’s because your parents brought you up as if you were their very own … which in a lot of ways you are … they loved you as if you were their own flesh and blood.
“They loved you so much that they did all they could to give you a good and happy life.
“Your loving mother has devoted her life to you. I know for a fact that she loves you very much … how she used to worry when as a toddler you were often sick …
“I remember a few years ago when your father lost his job, he was totally out of his mind as to how he’d be able to provide for you and your mother … in some ways he reminds me of St Joseph. He adopted the baby Jesus as his own son and provided for Him as He grew up …
“I was with your parents this morning, and they were out of their minds with worry. I’ve never seen them so distraught … they didn’t know what to think … where you were … whether you were alive or …
“Anyway … I believe you know, deep inside, that your parents love you very much. I think they meant to tell you the truth some day … but I suppose they never knew when is the right time to tell you. They were probably just as scared of telling you as you are now that you have found out the truth … Shall we go and see them do you think?”
Eventually, after she could cry no longer, he drove her to her parents and witnessed the most loving reunion since the prodigal son returned to his father.
Monday, 11 January 2010
Father Ignatius was enjoying breakfast when Father Donald came in holding a letter.
“Only one for you today … and it’s from the USA judging by the stamp.”
Father Ignatius frowned, “I don’t know anyone in the States …” he mumbled.
Father Donald chuckled as he poured himself a cup of tea. “Maybe it’s from Hollywood. They probably want to make a film about you …”
The older priest was not amused. He opened the letter and read:
“Dear Father Ignatius,
“You’d be surprised how long it took me to trace you down. I contacted almost every bishop in England. I hope this letter finally reaches you.
“I’m Johnny Nottingham. Do you remember me?”
Father Ignatius mumbled … “Johnny Nottingham …”
“What was that?” asked his fellow priest.
“Johnny Nottingham …” repeated Father Ignatius, “a young rascal I knew years ago when I first became a priest. He was always in trouble … I warned him that one day he’d end up in prison, or at the very least have a police record … eventually, he met up with a young girl named Florence and I married them … they left town soon afterwards in a hurry and I’ve never heard of them since …”
“What does he want?” asked Father Donald.
“You’ll never believe this … he emigrated to the States years ago and has become a successful businessman. He is still with Florence and will soon celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary … doesn’t time fly? He has invited me there … he insists I come … let me read this bit …
“I mean it Father. You have been a great influence on my life and we would really love to have you visit us for our celebration. All expenses paid. Just say the word and I’ll get the plane ticket rushed to you.”
“Sounds marvelous …” said Father Donald enthusiastically.
“No way … America is such a long way away … I’ll reply politely and decline.”
But Father Donald would not hear of it. He insisted his fellow priest took up the offer.
“It’s only for a week Ignatius,” he chuckled, “not enough time for me to sell your church and run away with the money … I promise you the church will still be here when you return …”
Father Donald can be quite persuasive when he puts his mind to it, and weeks later Father Ignatius was on his way to New York.
He was met at the airport by a chauffeur driven luxury car and was taken to one of the best hotels in the city. In his room there was a large basket of fruits welcoming him to New York signed by the Nottinghams.
That afternoon, the chauffeur took him to the Nottingham’s magnificent mansion where he met Johnny and Florence and their children and grand-children.
They looked after him all week and took him to many tourist places of interest, including a baseball game one evening.
“I never understood a thing about it,” joked the priest, “but I enjoyed it all the same”.
Towards the end of his stay, on a Saturday, Father Ignatius took part in the renewal of their marriage vows, together with their priest, in the church the Nottinghams regularly attended.
As an added surprise, which he knew nothing about, he was asked to baptize at the same time the Nottingham’s latest grand-child; named Ignatius after him.
On his way back on the plane, tears of gratitude welled up in his eyes as he remembered a life which started as if headed for disaster yet somehow, along the way, turned a reckless man into a successful Christian businessman.
“Praise you Lord,” he mumbled as he closed his eyes in prayer.
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
The letter had been on Father Ignatius’ desk for about a week now. A local firm of Solicitors had asked him to attend a meeting scheduled for this morning. He tried getting through to them on the phone, but was never able to contact the signatory to the letter. The person answering the phone could not help either. Reluctantly, he decided to attend the meeting.
There were about a dozen people or so at the reading of the will. Mr Simmons was not particularly wealthy but he left a few small sums of money mainly to local charities, which the people at the meeting represented. He had no relatives or friends to speak of.
Father Ignatius knew of him. He visited Mr Simmons at home a few times to see him when he wasn’t well, but usually Father Donald called on him since he never attended Mass. He lived alone on a farm on the outskirts of town.
The priest wondered why he had been named in the will instead of Father Donald. “Never mind,” he thought, “whatever money he has left us will come useful in meeting the church’s expenses.”
“ … and to Father Ignatius I bequeath the statue I valued so much. I request that he installs it in the front garden of the church for all to see and admire.”
“What?” thought Father Ignatius, “he left us a statue?”
He asked the solicitor after everyone had gone whether he knew anything about the statue, but he could shed no light on it either. He explained that there’s a life-size statue in a barn on the farm and that it will be sent to him in a week or so. He hadn’t seen it personally so he could not even say what it was a statue of.
Father Ignatius wondered about this strange bequest for a whole week. Father Donald teased him “Maybe he made a statue of you to honour your good works. It’ll look good in the middle of the car park. We can use it as a roundabout to control the traffic!”
At the breakfast table a few days later Father Ignatius was enjoying ginger marmalade on toast when Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, came in and announced: “There’s a removal van in the car park. They seem to be unloading something!”
The two priests went out to investigate, followed by Mrs Davenport.
“Is either of you two gentlemen Father Ignatius?” asked a fat man walking towards them.
“I have a delivery for you guv’nor. Would you sign here please … and here … and one more time here … that’s loverly! This box here is yours. And you can keep a copy of these papers too. Tara!” And he drove off accompanied by his mate.
“It’s a big enough crate!” said Father Donald.
“We can’t keep it here. Let’s get some tools and open it”.
Minutes later, supervised by Mrs Davenport, they managed to remove the front panel of the upright wooden crate. It was full of straw which they gently removed revealing a shape taller than Father Donald; and he is over six feet tall. The shape was covered by cloth which was well held in place by heavy duty string.
The two men gingerly moved the shape out of the crate by sliding it to and fro until it was standing upright by itself in the car park. They then cut the string and removed the cloth wrapping the statue.
“Oh … it’s a naked wee cherub!” declared Mrs Davenport, "just look at him ... isn't he cute?"
“Nothing wee about him,” said Father Donald, “he’s an overfed cherub who should have gone on a diet a long time ago.”
“Isn't he wonderful ... and he’s all naked too … the little angel!” continued Mrs Davenport with a smile.
“Yes … we have noticed,” replied Father Ignatius impatiently.
“Will you be putting him in the middle of the car park? He’ll look grand there,” suggested Mrs Davenport, “the parishioners will like him, I’m sure!”.
“We’ll do no such thing with this monstrosity,” was Father Ignatius’ abrupt reply.
“I don’t know,” teased Father Donald, “by installing him there we’d be the talk of the town. We could add a plaque saying he was bequeathed to the church in your honour Ignatius!”
Father Ignatius’ silence spoke volumes. He put the straw and cloth back in the crate and said: “We’ll have to remove him from here. Let’s put him in the garage for now. I’ll fetch a trolley to put him on.”
Minutes later the two priests tried to lift the statue onto the trolley. It was a little heavy but they managed it. As they pushed the trolley towards the garage one of its wheels must have caught something because it stopped abruptly and the statue slid forwards and fell to the ground before the two priests could do anything about it.
They moved away swiftly to avoid the statue crushing their feet; and after the initial shock of the sudden accident they realized that one of the cherub’s legs had been broken by the fall.
“Mercy me …” cried Mrs Davenport, “the wee angel broke its leg!”
“We’re both all right, thank you …” retorted Father Ignatius trying to keep calm.
“Hey … what’s this Ignatius?” said Father Donald pointing at the ground, “it looks like a small leather bag. It must have been inside the hollow statue.”
Father Ignatius pocketed the bag and the two priests eventually managed to store the statue, and its severed leg, inside the garage.
Moments later, in Father Ignatius’ office, the two priests opened the bag which contained seven little jewels. Five crystal in colour, and two red.
They didn’t know what to do about them, so Father Ignatius contacted the solicitors the next day who assured him that they belonged to him.
“They were in the statue and the statue is now yours, including its contents,” said the solicitor. “Mr Simmons had no family or friends to inherit his belongings. He left the statue to you, and had you not broken it we would never have known it contained anything. I suggest you keep or sell the so called jewels and use the proceeds as you wish.”
Well, the jewels were valued and sold for just over £8000 which helped with the church’s maintenance costs, and quite a bit besides to feed the poor of the Parish.
“The wee cherub may well have been naked,” remarked Mrs Davenport, “but he hid a treasure all right!”
Sunday, 3 January 2010
It’s amazing how sometimes a chance remark or a word spoken in jest can lead one to think something anew or with a fresh point of view.
Father Ignatius was helping with the dismantling of the Nativity scene in church and putting away the various statues safely for use the following Christmas. One of the helpers lifted the statue of the Virgin Mary and remarked: “Look at her face. She looks sad. It’s as if she knew what was to happen to Jesus when He grew up.”
“She’s probably tired after giving birth,” replied another helper.
“No … she looks sad, not tired. Do you think she knew that Jesus would be crucified Father?”
Father Ignatius sat down on a nearby chair.
“I think we need a rest, at least I know I do …” he said.
The other helpers stopped for a while.
“It’s a good question you ask …” continued the priest, “many people have argued about the Virgin Mary over the years, and no doubt will continue to do so. Not everyone holds her in such high regards as we do. Some see her as a woman who gave birth to the Son of God, and just that.
“Many doubt her various Apparitions throughout the world.
“As for how much she knew … well that’s another matter.”
“What do you mean Father?”
The priest finished cleaning his glasses and put them on again. It was a trick he had perfected when he wanted some thinking time.
“Let’s consider Mary when the Angel Gabriel announced what is to happen. Did the Angel just tell her about the Birth of Jesus, or did he, or the Holy Spirit perhaps, also tell her of what is to happen after that?
“Was she told that Jesus would grow up to perform many miracles? That His Mission on earth was to redeem us from our sins? That He would be arrested, beaten, tortured, have a crown of thorns put on His head, made to carry His own Cross and then nailed cruelly to it until He died in agony?”
“I’m not sure … the Bible doesn’t say much about this,” said one of his listeners.
“No, the Bible doesn’t …” continued the priest, “it does not record everything. For example, we have a gap in Christ’s life from the age of twelve when He was found in the temple by His parents to the age of thirty or so when He started His Mission on earth.
“The Gospels in particular focus mainly on Christ, as they should, and don’t mention Mary or Joseph very much.”
“Well what do you think Father?” he was asked again.
“What I think is only a personal point of view.
“I doubt that God would have asked her to become the Mother of Jesus without telling her what this entailed.
“I believe the Holy Spirit would have told her what is to happen. We don’t know in how much details … we can only guess at that. And throughout her life, from the moment the Angel Gabriel visited her, she had snippets of confirmation of what is to happen.
“When she visited Elizabeth … we learn that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and confirmed ‘you are the most blessed amongst women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’
“When she presented the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon warned her ‘and sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.’
“And when at the age of twelve His parents found Jesus in the temple He said ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ And Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
“Yes … I believe she knew quite a lot what was to happen to Jesus.”
“Wow … no wonder she looks so sad …” exclaimed one of the helpers.
“This leads us to consider something else,” added the priest.
“Imagine you knew every detail that is to happen in your life. Every illness, sad moment and unhappiness that is to happen. And you could not change it. You had to go through it. How would you feel? Would you be able to cope with the fear and agony of knowing what is to happen to you?
“We don’t know how much Mary knew of her future and that of Jesus.
“But Jesus certainly knew what would happen to Him. Every detail from the moment of His arrest to His death. Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, His disciples fleeing in fear. The agony of His torture and Crucifixion.
“Can you imagine how He must have felt as He grew up, as a teenager and young man, knowing that this day was still to come? The horror of it must have been unbearable.
“Yet He went through with it … just for us!”
They were all silent for a few moments as they considered the seriousness of what they’d just heard.