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.
Friday, 26 February 2010
Father Ignatius was at the supermarket pushing his trolley slowly from one aisle to the next and reading his shopping list as he went along. He rarely visited the confectionery counters but this time he made a special detour to buy a box of chocolates for Mrs Davenport, his housekeeper, whose birthday was the following day.
Just as he entered the aisle he saw one of his parishioners there standing a few feet away. He was a successful local business man and a regular in church every Sunday and at confession every Saturday morning.
The priest was about to greet him when what he saw next made him suddenly stop in his tracks and freeze on the spot.
The business man took a chocolate bar from the shelf and put it in his pocket. He then moved away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.
Father Ignatius faced a sudden dilemma. Should he confront the man and tell him what he did is wrong. This may well cause a scene at the store as the man may well deny any wrongdoing.
Or should he inform a member of staff about what he had just witnessed and leave the matter to them.
Or should he just do nothing. Look the other way. Condone stealing through his lack of actions.
As the man casually walked out of the store Father Ignatius decided to let matters rest. He walked up the aisle and bought an identical chocolate bar as the man had just stolen.
Two days later Father Ignatius was hearing confessions as he normally does on Saturday mornings.
He sat at his confessional, which was one of those old fashioned wooden cubicles where he sat in the middle, and on either side people would kneel and speak to him through a small aperture covered by a thick curtain so that he would not see who is kneeling there.
He often smiled to himself at the intricacies of these old contraptions.
“What is the point of all this secrecy” he asked himself, “when I can usually tell who is on the other side of the curtain by their voice?”
Father Ignatius had a good memory for faces and voices and more often than not he knew who was confessing their sins to him. He had his regulars turning up Saturday after Saturday seeking absolution and listening to his wise words before leaving with a much lighter heart to pray their penance.
“Even their sins are always the same …” smiled Father Ignatius to himself as he waited for his first parishioner to kneel by his side, “sometimes I could recite their sins for them … but then, they’d think I can read minds …” he chuckled silently.
“Well at least they’re a good lot generally … not terrible sinners most of them …”
About half-an-hour later the business man he saw at the store came for his usual Saturday confession. Father Ignatius listened attentively to him and noted that he had not mentioned the incident at the store.
After the man had finished talking Father Ignatius whispered quietly through the heavy curtain, “for your penance I want you to take this …”
And he handed him the chocolate bar he’d bought from the store through the heavy curtain dividing both men.
The man took the chocolate bar and mumbled quietly, “I don’t understand.”
“It is your favorite chocolate is it not?” asked the priest.
“Er … yes it is.”
“Two days ago I saw you pocket a similar bar in the supermarket … am I right?”
“Yes … Father …” mumbled the man after a short pause.
“You see my son,” continued Father Ignatius, “I wasn’t the only one who saw you steal that chocolate bar … God saw it too … I spoke to Him about it … and He asked me to buy you a similar chocolate bar …”
The man said nothing, feeling both ashamed and totally repentant in his heart.
“For your penance I want you to enjoy this chocolate bar,” continued the priest quietly, “but I also want you to promise that you will never steal anything ever again … is that a deal?”
“Yes Father,” mumbled the man behind the curtain.
“And remember … next time you do something wrong, I may not be there to witness it … and God alone may be the one seeing your wrongdoing …”
“Yes Father!” repeated the repentant man as the priest absolved his sins and sent him in peace to fulfill his penance.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Time was when priests were more approachable and people felt more at ease discussing their problems with them and seeking guidance. But times change and with them habits and customs change too.
Nowadays people are more willing to spend their hard-earned cash consulting psychiatrists and counselors than asking the man of God for his wisdom and opinions.
Somehow, this distancing from one’s flock has been precipitated by busy modern lifestyles where people are working all hours at their disposal. And priests too are pre-occupied with Parish meetings, Ecumenical Councils, and various other tasks and targets set upon them by their clerical hierarchies.
Father Ignatius was well aware of this changing trend, and being an old-fashioned old-school type of priest he did his utmost to keep in touch with grass roots in his church. He knew most people personally by first name, he visited them at home often, or in hospital when they were ill, or at the police station or jail when they were in trouble. And in turn, they did not hesitate to trouble him with their worries and problems at all times of night and day.
Many times did he settle down of an evening to watch his favorite team play football on TV, or to listen to his favorite classical music when the phone rang and a parishioner needed help. Or the door bell rang, and they brought their problems to his doorstep or lounge even!
Mrs Frost was such an example when she turned up to the Parish house one evening in tears.
“My husband has just left home” she sobbed as she sat down on the settee clutching a handkerchief tightly in her hand.
Father Ignatius listened attentively and sympathetically. There was very little he could practically do straightaway. The newly married couple had a row about something or other and Mr Frost stormed out of the house in a temper.
The priest tried his best to console Mrs Frost and after saying a prayer together she calmed down enough to return home; which was within walking distance of the church. Father Ignatius promised to call on them the next day after morning Mass.
Thankfully Mr Frost was at home and with his usual patience and gentleness Father Ignatius succeeded in getting them to discuss their problem. Amongst the tears and prayers it soon became apparent that their troubles stemmed from lack of communication leading to misunderstandings and confusion.
“Praise the Lord …” said the priest gently, “you really do love each other deeply; yet you can’t hear each other because of the noise of your busy lifestyles.
“Let me tell you a story which perhaps may help you to focus on what is going on here …” continued Father Ignatius,
“There once was a married couple who'd been together for many years; longer than the two of you have been married.
“One day the wife was unwell with a heavy cold. Her loving husband stayed at home and helped around the house. After seeing the children to school he offered to make her something to eat.
“She asked for a salad sandwich made with a French baguette which they had just bought that morning.
“The husband went into the kitchen, cut the ends of the French baguette, and with the middle bit made the most delicious sandwich, with tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers - just as his wife likes it.
“She must have felt pretty bad that day, because when he presented the sandwich to her she snapped ‘Why do you always cut the end bits of the baguette for yourself? They're my favorite!’
“He smiled and said ‘My dear, I hate the end bits, they're crunchy and dry ... I've been having them for years because I thought you hated them too!’
“You see … all these years he was trying to please her, and little did he know that she preferred the end bits of the French bread … and all this time she thought he was selfish by taking her favorite bits of the bread to himself, but she said nothing because she loved him as much as he loved her … all because of lack of communication.
“How many problems can be avoided in life if we learn to communicate honestly and openly with each other?
“So as I leave you can I urge you please to find out how you like your sandwiches,” he concluded with a smile.
Friday, 12 February 2010
It was just before 10 o’clock in the morning, early Mass had long been over and everyone had left. The church was empty, or so Father Ignatius thought. He came out of the Sacristy to spend a few minutes with the Virgin Mary, sitting on the front pew reciting his Rosary as usual, when he noticed a young man sitting in his place. He was wearing a very smart dark suit and had a small business case with him lying beside him on the pew.
Father Ignatius nodded a greeting and sat on the other side of the church, by St Joseph’s statue, for a change. He thought it prudent to give the young man some privacy to pray or meditate. He’d never seen him before, “not one of our regulars,” thought the priest as he started his prayers.
A few minutes later the young man got up and made his way towards the priest.
“Do you work here?” he asked hesitantly.
“Yes … I am the priest here, they call me Ignatius. At least to my face, that is …” joked the priest standing up.
“I saw a book at the back about Catholic Saints. May I purchase it please?”
“Oh, you’re welcome to it … it’s free. Please help yourself to any leaflets or pamphlets on the table at the back,” replied Father Ignatius.
“I am not from this side of town …” continued the young man, “I’m here for a job interview at the factory down the road. I was surprised to find the church open at this hour. Where I live they are always closed.”
“It’s the devil’s finest hour when we lock our churches,” replied Father Ignatius, “we try to leave the door open as much as we can around here …”
“It’s a shame that so many churches are closed during the middle of the day … I like to go from time to time and just sit there … it helps me to think … and pray perhaps … you know, before my interview. I really need this job.”
“I wish you well … and I shall pray for you too …”
“All these statues of Jesus and the Saints have candles lit besides them. I’m not Catholic and I never understood the purpose of candles … do you believe they help get your intentions attended to … you know, if I lit a candle for this job I need?” asked the young man hesitantly.
The priest sat down and so did the young man. “Ah … I’ve been asked this so many times … the statues are of course inanimate objects just to help us envisage what Jesus or the Saints looked like. Just like having a photo of a loved one in your wallet. A helpful reminder every time you look at it …
“Some people consider it wrong to pray or light candles to statues. I understand that sentiment. But it’s important to understand also that we’re of course praying to Jesus or a Saint and certainly not to the statue we see there.
“It’s also important to understand that Jesus or the Saints do not require anything material from us … they don’t need candles lit … flowers put in vases or any such things …
“Lighting a candle is for many people a sign of love and respect. Their way of veneration … an expression of their Faith.
“So the answer is no … a candle will not help get you a job at the factory or anything else for that matter.
“I’ve lit many a candle in my time … I don’t see any harm in it, as long as it is understood that it will not buy you any favors in any way.
“God does answer prayers, I’ve seen it often … but He does so according to His will and not based on candles, flowers or such like …”
“Thank you …” said the young man, “I’ll light one all the same … but no promise or guarantee intended …” he smiled.
“Should you get the job around here … I hope to see you visit us from time to time …” said Father Ignatius as he shook the young man’s hand.
It seems that this time God was willing, and the young man did get his job, because Father Ignatius saw him sitting at the back of the church at midday Mass on several occasions since.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Evening Mass had finished half-an-hour ago and the congregation had long departed to their homes. Father Ignatius tidied up in the Sacristy and then entered the church and sat on the front pew, just where he normally sits by the statue of the Virgin Mary. He took his Rosary from his pocket and started praying.
A few minutes later he heard a noise from the back of the church. It sounded as if someone was trying to break into the collection box for the poor.
He got up and hurried to the back. “Is anyone there?” he shouted.
A figure ran out in the dark. He heard something crash to the ground and then he saw the back door open and slowly close again as the spring on the door pulled it shut.
As he reached the exit door at the back of the church Father Ignatius switched on the lights in the porch. He noticed that a small table which had various leaflets and pamphlets for visitors had been knocked to the ground by the escaping intruder. Papers and pamphlets were strewn everywhere.
More out of instinct than intelligent thinking the priest rushed out to the car park … but he saw no one there.
Father Ignatius entered the church again and locked the door behind him. He was somewhat shaken by the whole experience and wondered what he would have done if the intruder attacked him.
He picked up the table and started collecting the papers and pamphlets from the floor. It was then that he noticed that the Crucifix which hung on the wall by the back door was missing.
He opened the door again, instincts taking over his actions once more, and got out. He looked aimlessly everywhere hoping against hope to find the missing Crucifix.
It was then that he saw Father Donald drive in and park his car in the usual place.
Days later, Father Ignatius was walking Canis the dog in the park opposite the church. News of the intruder had been mentioned in the weekly church newsletter and the Crucifix was still missing.
“It’s probably been sold for a few pennies …” thought Father Ignatius, as the dog stopped by a tree to sniff in the delectable canine fragrances deposited there.
At that moment the priest noticed two men approaching him. One was well built and about six feet tall and reminded Father Ignatius of a wrestler he’d seen fighting on TV. The other was slightly smaller and had a scar on his left cheek. They both wore hats and heavy overcoats. They stood about two feet away with their hands in their coat pockets. The giant one had a small matchstick in the corner of his mouth and said nothing.
“Are you Father Ignatius from the church over there?” asked the smaller man.
“Yes … I am …” said the priest holding back the dog on a very tight leash.
“We’ve heard about the break-in you had the other day … that’s terrible …”
“Yes … I suppose it is …” replied Father Ignatius hesitantly, retreating a little to keep the dog from jumping on them. Canis growled once or twice as he pulled on the lead, the hairs on his neck standing almost vertically.
“I’m sorry someone stole the Cross your Holiness.”
“Eh … it’s not your Holiness … you address the Pope as your Holiness …” corrected Father Ignatius and then quickly bit his lip as he remembered who he was speaking to.
“I see …” continued the smaller man, “I know who stole your Cross … rest assured your Holy … rest assured Father Ignatius, that it will be returned to you … with recompense …”
“Thank you … there’s no need for …”
“Enough said …” interrupted the smaller man, as both of them turned round and walked away to the sound of a barking Canis and a priest having difficulty controlling him.
As he arrived back to the Parish house Father Ignatius found a small packet by the church door. It contained the missing Cross and £100 in used notes in an envelope.
The following day two men called on Father Ignatius. They identified themselves as detectives from the local police force. He invited them in the visiting room and offered them tea.
“No thanks …” said the senior one of the two, “we’d just like to ask you a few questions …”
“How can I help you?” asked the priest.
“Yesterday evening you were seen speaking with David Garton and his henchman in the park …”
“I spoke with two men … that’s right …” replied Father Ignatius.
“We’d like to know what they said …” asked the junior detective.
“Well … I’m not sure I can help you …”
“Do you know who these people are?” interrupted the junior.
“No … I’ve never met them before …”
“Well Father,” the senior detective said gently, “let’s say they are unsavory characters …”
“They may have confessed to the break-in which you had here the other day … which by the way you did not report to the police … that’s an offence you know …” interrupted the junior officer again.
“Well …” replied Father Ignatius calmly, “if they had confessed to anything, you know very well that I could not tell you about it …”
“There is such a thing as withholding evidence …” interrupted the junior policeman again.
Before Father Ignatius answered the senior detective spoke again gently.
“Well Father … shall we leave it at that for now. You met up with Garton and Stones, you’d never seen them before yesterday evening, and you do not feel disposed to tell us what they said.”
“Yes that’s right …” replied the priest.
“Good … we won’t trouble you further. But should you change your mind please contact me on this number … by the way I’m pleased to note that the missing Cross is back in its place …”
Before the priest could say anything the detective continued, “shall we say you found it somewhere in the car park … that would be accurate I think …”
Father Ignatius nodded and the policemen left never to return again.
To this day Father Ignatius wonders whether he handled the situation well. He prayed about it often and he was clear in his mind that he should not have said anything to the police; not under those circumstances anyway. But should he perhaps have reached out to the two men in the park? Could he have said something that … perhaps … may have led them to experience the love of Christ?
The £100 was used to buy food for the old people in his Parish.
Monday, 8 February 2010
Father Ignatius was on his way back from a school trip to the museum in the big city with the young children from St Andrew’s School.
The young seven-year olds were a little boisterous and excited after their first school outing; and the six adults on the bus had their work cut out keeping them in their seats. When everyone was seated, Mr Foster, the Headmaster, took a roll-call to ensure that no one was missing.
As the bus made its way slowly through the busy traffic the children discussed amongst themselves their museum visit and the souvenirs they had bought from the museum shop.
A few of them sitting next to Father Ignatius discussed the various ancient exhibits they had seen from years gone by and asked him which were his favorite.
“I wouldn’t say I had a favorite as such,” replied Father Ignatius, “but I suppose it is impressive how many of these exhibits have survived all these centuries and how much we have to learn from ancient civilizations …”
“Are you ancient?” asked a seven year old.
“I suppose I am …” replied the priest with a smile.
Mr Foster smiled too, but said nothing.
“Will they put ancient people like you in the museum? And people will come to see you?” asked another youngster.
“Now that’s a good idea …” replied the priest, “do you think anyone would be interested?”
“No …” replied another promptly, “old people are not interesting … my grand dad is old … he is 58 and he does not like burgers and milk-shake.”
“Ah … that’s the ultimate test of antiquity,” declared Father Ignatius, “being 58 and having a dislike for burgers and milk-shake!”
The children continued discussing amongst themselves and the priest started reading a book about Ancient Civilisation which he had bought from the museum.
About half-an-hour later he closed the book and looked up.
“Learn anything interesting Father?” asked Mr Foster.
“I suppose so … whilst reading this book I’ve been thinking about our attitude to age and ageing …”
“What do you mean?”
“We seem to be in awe at something ancient …” continued the priest, “we wonder at the pyramids, and ancient monuments and relics. We marvel at old paintings by the great masters … and in this country we even have some buildings listed so that they cannot be altered or pulled down because of their historical architectural significance …”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked the headmaster.
“Oh … nothing wrong as such … but I can’t help wondering how many old people here in Britain live alone. Their families having grown up and moved on, these old folk are rarely visited by friends or neighbours. Perhaps Social Security visits them every now and again …
“There are quite a few in our Parish you know …”
“Yes … it’s modern society I’m afraid …” said the headmaster glumly, “people are too busy living life to care about each other … or their old folks. Some are too eager to put their parents in an old-folks home … too busy to look after them I suppose … I can understand that …”
“Can you? Some countries do in fact honor and respect their old people. Sending them to an old-peoples’ home is unheard of in those countries. They all live together in large families and the grand-parents have a lot to contribute to the family and the children’s up-bringing …
“But as you say … it’s different here in Britain … our modern lifestyles make us more interested in an ancient vase or similar relic than in human beings … it's such a pity we don't value our old people as much as we value an old building ...”
“Perhaps the Government should have old-folks listed, just like buildings!” joked Mr Foster.
Father Ignatius smiled. “There’s one thing I’ve learnt from this book,” he said with a glint in his eyes, “you’d better make friends with an archaeologist … because the older you get the more interested they are in you!”
The headmaster laughed and then added “Perhaps we can do something about it Father … in a small way … in our Parish that is …”
“What … have our old people listed by the Government or get them to meet up with archaeologists?”
“Can we not organize a group of volunteers from the church to visit lonely parishioners in our midst? Help them with the shopping perhaps, or with small jobs in the home or garden? I could get some of our older pupils to accompany the adult volunteers. It would help our youngsters no end … teach them to respect and help their elders … we could also involve the other Catholic school in town …”
And the enthusiasm of Mr Foster, which started from a conversation on a bus, soon turned into reality in a matter of weeks. And it's still going strong in that small Parish community.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
Father Ignatius was on his way to the big city. He hadn’t been there for some years, and quite honestly, he didn’t regret it. He preferred his gentle life in a small town Parish church to the hustle and bustle of the big city and the Cathedral. Anyway, the reality is that he hated driving in the big city where everyone seems to go at high speed and never give you a chance to think where you’re going. Just point the car in one direction and drive – seems to be the maxim of the big city!
He had been invited by Father Gerard as guest speaker at their Youth Club. An invitation he had postponed many times mainly because of the driving involved; but he was now running out of excuses. He tried other modes of transport, namely the train as his only option; but this involved a long journey, changing trains twice, and costing a fortune. So driving it had to be.
As he approached the outskirts of the city he tried hard to concentrate and remember which turning he had to take to reach the Cathedral. He could see the large dome at the top of the hill and the golden Cross gleaming in the midday sun.
But the one-way system, and the detour he was forced to take through the park, meant that at one point he was required by the traffic system to drive away from the Cathedral; only to reach it by a circumvented route, which the town planners had devised with the specific aim of raising one’s blood pressure and to teach you tolerance and patience no doubt leading to time off Purgatory.
“And to think that these town planners go to university to learn how to create such chaos …” thought Father Ignatius as he concentrated hard not to get lost.
But as luck would have it, or was it the town-planners, he took the wrong turning at a junction and was compelled by the one-way system to drive even further away from the Cathedral. There it was in his rear view mirror getting smaller and smaller as he drove further and further away from his destination.
Eventually, he found a safe place to stop and asked a man for directions.
The man stood upright by the side of the car and looked forward in the direction the car was pointing. He scratched his head and mumbled something which the priest, sitting in the driving seat, could not hear properly or understand.
The man then turned round and looked towards the back of the car where Father Ignatius had just come from. He could see the minute Cathedral on the hill. He mumbled something else incomprehensibly and looked forward again.
“Are sure you want to get to the Cathedral?” shouted the man looking back up the hill once more.
“Yes …” replied Father Ignatius hesitantly.
“Only the Cathedral is so far away … and difficult to get to in this one-way system … I could direct you to somewhere else near here perhaps …” continued the man in a loud voice to compensate for the traffic noise.
Father Ignatius did not reply, he waited patiently in the car and said a short prayer under his breath. Eventually the man shoved his head in through the open car window and said: “If I were you Father, I would not start from here!” then he walked away leaving the stranded priest in total astonishment.
Father Ignatius drove uncertainly on not knowing where he was going. A few minutes later he saw a taxi rank with a number of taxis parked there. He stopped his car and walked over to the first parked taxi.
“Could you take me to the Cathedral?” he asked the driver.
“Yeah … sure … jump in,” replied the driver.
“No … I’ve already got a car, parked over there. You take me to the Cathedral and I’ll follow you!”
Unusual as it might seem, but that’s how Father Ignatius got to the Cathedral in good time for the Youth Club meeting.
He started his speech thus:
“What a terrible traffic system you have in this City of yours …” a few people cheered and applauded in agreement.
“I got lost … and I will need your help to drive out of the City again …” A few hands were raised and one or two shouted “no problem …” “we’ll help you out …”
He smiled and thanked them. Then, as they calmed down a little he continued:
“I stopped to ask for directions to the Cathedral … the man I asked was more puzzled than me … he looked backwards from where I came … and then forwards once or twice … scratched his head and eventually gave up and said … ‘If I were you I wouldn’t start from here!’ ”
The audience laughed.
“How lucky are we …” continued Father Ignatius, “how lucky are we that Jesus never says ‘I wouldn’t start from here!’
“No matter how sinful we are … no matter what we have done in the past … our evil deeds … our wrongdoings … our shameful history … He always says ‘I forgive you.’
“If we truly repent our sins, if we truly promise and try not to repeat them … He readily forgives us …
“He does not look way back where we came from and how we got into the terrible state we’re in now … down-trodden and broken down by the weight of our sins … He doesn’t say … ‘if only you did not do this and that all that long time ago …’
“No … He is willing to start from right here … at this very point in our lives … regardless of our past and what we have done. If we accept our sins, repent, and promise not to repeat them … Jesus will forgive us right now.
“Just ask any priest for an honest and truthful confession and that’s your starting point.
“And what is more … Jesus will not walk away like that man did to me. But like the taxi driver He will guide you all the way, step by step, mile after mile, throughout your life, all the way to Heaven.
“And unlike the taxi driver, Jesus will not charge you a fortune!”