Sunday, 27 February 2011
This is what happened one beautiful Saturday at St Vincent Parish Church.
Father Donald was away traveling and Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, had gone away to spend a few days with relatives.
Father Ignatius, the Parish priest, was not quite alone however, for on the Friday evening he welcomed a newly ordained priest, Father Clement, who had been sent un-announced to St Vincent by the Bishop to gain some experience before being posted to another Parish.
Father Ignatius intended to introduce the young priest to parishioners and to the nuns in the nearby Convent on the Saturday but unexpected events changed his plans.
At about eight on Saturday morning Father Ignatius received a phone call asking him to go to the hospital urgently as one of his parishioners had been admitted in a serious condition. He had no time to explain this to the young priest who had not yet come down for breakfast. So Father Ignatius left a quick note asking him to hear Confessions at 9:30 and left him a set of keys to the church and Parish House.
A few minutes later, Father Clement came down to the kitchen, helped himself to breakfast and set out to the church to prepare for Confessions.
St Vincent had one of those old fashioned wooden confessionals which consisted of a small stall with a seat for the priest to sit in, and two positions on either side where the people would kneel, and speak to him in turn through a small window.
Father Clement entered the confessional and shut the door behind him. He made a point of explaining to each person seeking Confession that he was a new priest and that he’d be at St Vincent for a few weeks.
He heard Confessions for about an hour or so until eventually everyone had left the church. He stayed in the confessional for a few minutes longer in case there was anyone else to confess, and then, as no one came, he tried to get out of the confessional. Somehow, the handle to the confessional door broke in his hand and the door would not open. He was trapped in a small wooden room with no means of escape. He called out for help but there was no one there to hear him.
The young priest kept his cool as best he could. He sat there praying and every so often, if he heard a noise, real or imagined, he would bang on the confessional door and call for help. But no help arrived for there was no one there to help him!
Eventually, at about eleven o’clock Stuart entered the church.
Stuart was an elderly gentleman of about seventy years of age. He had served in the military many years ago and was a strict no-nonsense man always wary of any wrong-doings and suspicious of anything that was not the norm. It was his turn to clean the church on Saturday and having called at the Parish House for the keys and received no response he then called at Mrs Davenport’s cottage and got no response either. He looked for the priest’s car and that was missing too. He called at the church and to his surprise found the door open. Courageously, he entered the church to find it totally deserted. His keen mind jumped to several wrong conclusions all at once and somersaulted over them time and again.
On hearing the church door closing Father Clement banged on the confessional door and called for help. Stuart was startled and his septuagenarian heart nearly had a cardiac arrest. His aching knees knocked together in rhythm with his heart and the butterflies in his stomach had their knees knocking too. Even his goose bumps had goose bumps of their own. He steadied himself against one of the nearby pews and took one or two deep breaths to recover from his fright.
Despite his courage, Stuart decided to walk out of the church slowly without making a noise and once out he rushed to the nearby Convent to call the police.
The police arrived in force moments later and let Father Clement out of the confessional. There was no one to confirm his story and the nuns had not been told of a new visiting priest. Having a bunch of keys in his possession did not help the young priest’s case who was taken away to the police station pending further enquiries.
At the police station Father Clement was put in a cell with a man who had spent the night there to recover from too much drink on Friday evening. He had been picked up sleeping on a park bench with no means of identification on him.
“Have you been drinking too Father?” asked the man in the cell.
Father Clement protested his innocence and explained what had happened to the incredulous cell-mate.
“That’s a good story Father. I must use it next time they bring me here!” he said.
“Next time?” asked Father Clement.
“Oh yes … I’m a frequent visitor of the constabulary … usually it’s the police station in town. This is my first time here. I normally sleep at the Mission House in town … got nowhere to live …”
The young priest spent the next hour or so getting to know his companion in the cell until eventually Father Ignatius came to verify his story and he was let out.
Over the next few weeks at St Vincent Church Father Clement visited the Mission many times to see his prison friend. With the help of Father Ignatius they encouraged him to seek professional help to stop drinking, and they helped him find a part-time job at a nearby farm.
And God looked down and smiled at the turn of events.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
After Mrs Barker’s funeral, Father Ignatius went to his office and sat at his desk. He picked up the Prayer Card dedicated to her and looking at her photograph, staring back at him, his mind wondered to times past. He smiled to himself.
Father Ignatius was a good priest, he cared for his parishioners dearly and often spent time visiting them at home, or in hospital when they were sick, or at the local Catholic schools.
He remembered how once he had visited Mrs Barker at her home and she offered him coffee and gateaux. She called them gateaux because she had spent some time in France in her youth and had worked in a patisserie. So she prided herself at her little creations.
She had served two of her cakes in little plates and having poured the coffee, she realized she’d forgotten to bring out the sugar. She excused herself and went back to the kitchen.
Father Ignatius was holding the cup of coffee in his hand, and before he could do anything, Mrs Barker’s dog came in, picked up the priest’s gateau in its mouth, and ran in the corner to devour it.
When she came back in Mrs Barker said: “Finished your gateau already Father? Shall I get you another one?”
He politely declined and felt embarrassed at his apparent greediness.
As happens on such sad occasions, one’s mind wanders to the past and seeks pleasant stories perhaps to alleviate the pain one feels for having lost a loved one.
Father Ignatius’ thoughts wandered from one parishioner to the next. He brought to mind the Hendersons; a lovely young married couple with a three years old child.
When he visited them recently he was surprised to be asked by Mrs Henderson to take off his shoes.
“We have a young child Father,” said Mrs Henderson, “and it’s more hygienic to keep shoes off the house.”
The priest smiled politely and prayed that he hadn’t a big hole in his socks as he slowly took off his shoes. His prayers were readily answered.
He entered the living room where the child was playing with his father. As he made his way to the armchair near the TV, Father Ignatius accidentally stepped on a Lego brick lying on the floor.
The pain was excruciating !!! So sharp and severe that he felt it again right now as he recalled the event in his mind. He remembered tears welling up in his eyes.
He kept his composure and did not let on to what had happened – but since that painful visit he always considered these toy bricks as instruments of torture dating back to the Spanish Inquisition.
His thoughts were free-wheeling now as he recalled one more occasion when he visited another parishioner, Mrs Granger, to return a book he had borrowed.
It was a windy day as he drove to her house, out in the country. Approaching the front door he noticed that it was open. He rang the bell and waited for a while. No response. He rang the bell again when he heard his name being called from the back of the house.
He made his way to the back garden and did not see her at first. But then he heard her cry: “Up here!”
And there she was, half-way up a large oak tree, standing on a thick horizontal branch clasping another branch tightly with both hands for fear of falling.
“Could you put up the ladder please Father?” she asked.
He picked up the ladder lying flat beside the tree and held it in position as she slowly and gingerly made her way down to terra firma.
He was too polite to ask what had happened when she said with a smile: “I went up there because the cat was stranded and was too afraid to get down.”
“Where’s the cat now?” asked the priest.
“Oh … it got down and ran away as soon as I got up there. Then the ladder slipped and left me stranded instead!”
His eyes caught Mrs Barker’s photo once again and he said a silent prayer for the repose of her soul. Her voice reverberated in his head; “Finished your gateau already Father? Shall I get you another one?”
He recalled his long departed mother and prayed for her too as he remembered her favourite saying:
“Always make time to laugh Ignatius. And remember what made you laugh. At times of hardship and sadness you’ll draw strength from those fond memories of happy times.”
Sunday, 20 February 2011
Father Ignatius had been tendering to his flock at St Vincent Church for years. He knew them all, the young, the old, the not-so-young and the infants still in their prams and push-chairs. He visited them often at their homes and shared their joys, their hopes, their fears and their doubts.
He observed that they all seemed to have one thing in common – they always worried about something or other. And in most cases, it was un-warranted worries about matters which may not even happen anyway.
Some worried about the economic situation and how they would make ends meet, or whether they'll lose their jobs, or be able to find a job even. Others worried about their families, their children, or the state of their marriage and life. Many worried about their health or some other problems - some real and some just imagined.
They came to him, his flock of sheep, day after day, week after week, with their problems and worries. Seeking his advice or sometimes just to unload their heavy weights on someone else. And as ever, he was always approachable, giving advice where he could, and praying with them for God's guidance and enlightenment.
One Sunday, whilst delivering his sermon he acknowledged that times were hard and that it was understandable when people worried about many things. He tactfully pointed out that more often than not, their worries were unnecessary since their fears never materialised anyway.
He reminded them that excessive worry showed a certain lack of Faith in God. A sure sign that we don’t believe He can help us. An insult even to His omnipotent power and His eternal love for us – His children.
Then, as if enlightened himself by a Higher Authority, he suggested something unusual to his congregation.
“Trust me on this,” said Father Ignatius in his gentle reassuring voice.
He asked the parishioners that the following Sunday everyone should bring with them to church a stone or a rock to which they should tie securely a label.
On the label they should describe briefly the nature of their problem or their worries – anonymously of course.
The stone or rock should be the size commensurate to the size or magnitude of their problem.
The following Sunday, sure enough, they all brought their rocks which they left outside the church.
There were small rocks, bigger ones, stones of all shapes and sizes and even a few pebbles tied inside a handkerchief to denote a lot of small problems.
One or two jokers even brought big boulders in wheelbarrows to show how huge their problems were.
During the sermon Father Ignatius said that he had read all the labels tied to the rocks and stones. He added that he had prayed about his parishioners’ worries and problems and that in prayer, God had spoken to him.
Father Ignatius asked the congregation to pick up any stone or rock outside the church on their way home, and in return, with prayers, God would help them, as long as they were willing to take on the problem written on the rock they had picked.
After Mass, they all went out, and after reading all the labels, they each picked a stone or rock and went home.
Each one of them had picked the same rock or stone they had brought with them to church that morning.
Friday, 11 February 2011
They were discussing sin and the nature of sin; and especially how often God was willing to forgive our sins.
They had mentioned Christ’s famous saying about forgiving 70 times 7 and understood that this did not mean literally that number of times. But, in discussion, they seemed confused about the various degrees of gravity between one sin and another.
“Does God forgive greediness like having an extra piece of cake, or chocolate, as much as He forgives cheating on one’s husband or wife?” asked a student sitting up front.
Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges just to gain some thinking time.
“It’s true to suggest that there are various degrees of seriousness between one sin and another,” he said quietly, “and the Church has tried, over the years, to help with this distinction by denoting venial and mortal sins.
“Traditionally, this has meant that breaking one of the Commandments is a mortal sin.But there’s more to it than that … in my opinion!
“You’re all astute enough to know the difference between having extra cake, or in my case extra ginger marmalade, and cheating on one’s spouse, or stealing, or murder.
“There is an obvious difference in seriousness between these sins and God, of course, views them differently as such. But He is wise too, and He considers the circumstances behind the sin; not just their degree of seriousness.”
He stopped for a second or two to gain their attention.
“We know that the Church, for instance, considers not going to Mass on Sunday as a mortal sin. It is after all one of the Commandments” the priest continued.
“Now, in my view, I believe that God looks behind the real intent of that sin before deciding on its degree of gravity.
“Was missing Sunday Mass the result of an act of laziness brought about by tiredness, by having a good Saturday night with plenty to eat and drink?”
They all laughed.
“Or was it a deliberate attempt to defy and disobey God?” he continued as the laughter died down.
“If it’s the former, then God will consider it a sin of weakness. Not too different from the sin of weakness of Christ’s disciples when they could not stay awake as Jesus prayed in the garden before His arrest.
“God knows all about our weak nature. He did create us after all! He knows full well I have a weakness for ginger marmalade, and some of you have a weakness for chocolate or whatever.
“And He forgives that sin for what it is. Provided of course we repent and try our best not to repeat it. Albeit our weakness may cause us to sin yet again.
“He is of course disappointed at our behavior. Very much as a loving parent would be disappointed at the behavior of his children. Yet He forgives it again and again.
“So missing Mass on Sunday because of the occasional laziness, I believe, would be viewed with disappointment for what it is … a sin of weakness.”
“So is it not a mortal sin then?” asked one pupil.
“Yeh … what if someone dies with venial sins, but has missed Mass due to laziness. Does he go to hell?” asked another.
Father Ignatius waited a second or two before going on.
“As I said … the Church does designate missing Sunday Mass as a mortal sin. I believe God looks at the intent, the very reason, behind the sin before deciding on its seriousness.
“So in the example you mention, I believe that God would not exclude a person from Heaven purely because he missed Mass as a result of a drinking hangover.
“If on the other hand someone misses Mass because He doesn’t believe in God, or in direct defiance of God, then that is more serious.
“Let me explain what I mean to be in defiance of God. This means being in full knowledge of God yet having the impertinence, the impudence, the audacity to stand up against Him.
“This means making oneself as big and as important as the Lord God Himself.
“We read in the Bible about the original sin committed by Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit. What do we learn from this?”
“Don’t eat in the nude!” replied one of the school’s comedians as the class broke into total laughter.
Father Ignatius tapped the ruler gently on the desk to regain control of the class. As they settled down he continued.
“Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. That’s what the devil told them would happen if they ate the fruit.
“Theirs was a sin of defiance, not weakness. They didn’t want to know what the fruit tasted like. They wanted to be like Him.
“Over the years since then, many have tried to defy God. To stand up to Him instead of loving and obeying Him.
“The Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was God. Now that in itself is bad enough. They made the choice, given freely by God, to believe in Him or not.
“But they went further. They attributed Christ’s powers to the devil, knowing full well this is not so. And they encouraged others to stand up against Him.
“Some theologians call this the un-forgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. And many have debated it over the years and wondered whether it can be committed today, considering that Jesus is not visible amongst us as He was then.
“Personally, I don’t think this is important.
“What is important however is our relationship, individually, with God.
“Do we believe in Him? And if we do, do we honor, love and obey Him or do we stand against Him.
“Remember, even the devil believes in God. So believing alone is not enough. What is the action, the intent, behind our belief? That’s what God looks for and judges.
“These days, sadly, there are many amongst us in our society who do not believe in God. That is of course their prerogative, and whether we call it a mortal sin or not, we know that only God will judge those individuals when the time comes.
“But what is worse, is when those individuals encourage others to follow in their ways by what they say, and what they write or do, which serves as an example to others. They are no different to those people at the time of Christ who tried to lead others astray.
“Not to believe in God is one thing … but to lead others to do the same is far far worse in the eyes of God.”
The priest stopped again to ensure the message hit home.
“As I said many times before …” he continued, “no one goes to hell by mistake.
“No one goes to hell by mistake.
“God judges each and every sin according to its seriousness and its intent. He sees deep into our hearts and knows whether it is a sin of human weakness or a sin of defiance against His Divinity and omnipotence.
“And of course, He forgives. He forgives as many times as is necessary if our repentance is genuine. Our remorse is genuine. And our determination not to sin again is genuine.”
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
The vet discovered that the dog had been injured on both front paws by some thorns which he had picked up from a bush in the garden. The injuries had become infected and needed treatment. He sedated the dog and after removing the thorns he cleaned and bandaged both injured paws. He explained that the dog should remain indoors most of the time and the bandages changed daily.
Every time Father Ignatius and Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, approached the dog to clean and re-bandage his wounds he would growl and bare his teeth. No matter how gently they tried the dog would not let them near him as he cowered in his bed.
At one stage the dog snarled and bit Father Ignatius’ hand drawing blood.
“Oh dear Lord …” said Mrs Davenport as she cleaned the priest’s wound, “do you think your hand is infected?”
“We’ll soon see, if I start to scratch my ear violently like the dog does …” chuckled Father Ignatius.
“This is no joking matter …” interrupted the housekeeper, “the dog’s a menace … We’re only trying to help him … can’t he understand that?”
“He’s only reacting like you and I would …” said the priest.
“I’ve never bitten anyone, Father!” she replied indignantly.
Father Ignatius smiled and continued.
“You see Theresa …” he said, “when things go wrong in our lives, we too growl and snap at God in anger.
“We blame Him for what has happened. And quite wrongly so.
"God of course can take our anger. He did after all take our anger when nailed to the Cross, did He not?
“And although He is nearby, ready to help us, whenever He approaches we snarl and fight back.
“Somehow, our defensive attitude, understandable as it is, being born of human nature, is the very obstacle which keeps God at bay and blocks His ever present gift of love, caring and healing.
“The only way we can help Canis is if he trusts us and submits himself totally to our care.
“And so too it is with God. The only way He can help us, when we are ill or facing difficulties in life, is when we totally trust Him and accept that His will for us is for the good.
“Human nature, of course, gets in the way … just like with the dog and his instincts to reject help. But our human nature should not stop us from at least trying our best to trust God.”
Sunday, 6 February 2011
His favorite saying whenever he discussed such matters with his parishioners was “I have made a deal with God. I do His will on earth. And He takes care of the worries!”
He often prayed silently whenever a project or event was planned in the Parish and he offered the whole matter to God saying “Let it develop and work out according to your will oh Lord!”
One evening, during a Prayer Meeting at the Parish Hall, when all participants offered prayers and petitions for healings and other personal needs, Father Ignatius said:
“Let us pray for the success of the Young Peoples Retreat this weekend.
“The Youth Leaders and I are taking a few youngsters on Saturday morning to a Monastery in the countryside. It is run by Franciscan Monks.
“We hope to leave early on Saturday morning and the children will bring with them a packed lunch.
“Praise God we’ve already acquired two mini-vans donated for the weekend by one of our parishioners and the two Youth Leaders will drive them with all of the children. I will follow behind in my car carrying any luggage that will not fit in the vans.
“When we get there we hope to hold an open-air Mass in the grounds of the Monastery. Followed by a short Retreat and Prayers led by two of the Monks.
“We also hope to have a barbecue and the children will do all the cooking and preparations for the meal. Supervised of course! This will help them to work together and to take on responsibility for various tasks.
“We hope to return back here after Mass and breakfast on Sunday morning.
“We have everything organized, except for the food for Saturday night and Sunday breakfast.
“So please pray that the children enjoy the experience and are blessed spiritually as a result of this Retreat as they prepare for their Confirmation in two weeks’ time.”
At the end of the Prayer Meeting the priest was approached by two Americans from a nearby military base who had visited that evening for the first time as guests of one of the regular parishioners.
They asked Father Ignatius how many children he was taking on the retreat.
“Oh … about twenty or so …” replied the priest.
“Is that all?” they replied, “feeding them should be no problem!”
They offered to provide all food for the Saturday evening barbecue and the Sunday morning breakfast for children and adults alike.
And true to their word, on the day in question, they followed the convoy in their own van filled with food and the necessary equipment to ensure a successful barbecue. They stayed in a nearby hotel for the night and returned to the Monastery on Sunday morning to collect their utensils and equipments and go home.
Father Ignatius thanked the Lord for providing once again.
Based on a true story.
Thursday, 3 February 2011
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
When I was in hospital I saw something I'd not seen since I was a child.
They have a chapel in hospital. The door to the chapel is an ordinary door, like all the others in a long hospital corridor. It says on it "Chapel" as opposed to "X Ray" or "Pharmacy" or whatever else is posted on the other doors.
I noticed that several people whilst passing by this door did the sign of the Cross. A few opened the door and looked in for 5 or 10 seconds, did the sign of the Cross, and then continued on their way.
Now this is something I've not seen for many years when, as a child, we were taught to do the sign of the Cross whenever we passed a Church. I certainly did not expect to see it in secular Britain.
I wonder whether this sign of respect is prevalent elsewhere. For example, do people make the sign of the Cross before meals when they are at a restaurant or in public?
I remember when young, on Ash Wednesday, some people used to go to work with ash on their forehead having been to Mass first. Not seen this in public for some time nowadays.