Thursday, 31 March 2011
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
One wintry day in February Father Ignatius was in his meditation corner at about 1 o’clock in the morning with his dog Canis. He was alone in the house. Father Donald was away traveling and Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, had long retired to her small cottage at the back of St Vincent House.
Father Ignatius could not get to sleep so he decided to go up to the attic for some reading of the Bible and cross-referencing it with several other books he had collected over the years.
Suddenly, the dog woke up from his sleep and started growling quietly. His ears were standing to attention as he looked at the priest as if to say: “Come on … open the door. I’ve heard something downstairs!”
The priest did nothing for a moment or two but the dog was insistent, growling all the time and jumping at the door handle.
Father Ignatius got up from his chair and opened the door as Canis shot out at full speed down the stairs. There was a sudden sound of running, then an almighty crash followed by the dog barking menacingly as if ready to attack.
Father Ignatius rushed from the fourth floor attic and by the time he reached the second floor, switching on lights as he moved hurriedly, he saw a young man lying on the floor waving his hands in the air to keep the dog from attacking him. Canis was a few feet away barking loudly and was about to pounce when Father Ignatius called him to stop. Luckily the dog stopped and sat down at the priest’s feet growling all the time.
It took a moment or two for the priest to assess the situation. An intruder had broken into the house thinking it was empty, and in his escape had tripped down the stairs and lay there injured.
“I think I’ve broken my foot” said the young man, “it hurts very much. I tripped on that worn out carpet”.
“Let me see,” replied the priest gently. He approached the intruder cautiously in case the man attacked him, and all the time keeping an eager Canis at bay. “Stretch your foot towards me …”
The man did as he was asked and the priest gently held the foot in his hand. “Can you move it freely?” he asked. And the man moved the foot once or twice backwards and forwards.
“It hurts …” he said, and then, to the priest’s surprise he added, “I shall sue you …”
Father Ignatius raised his eyebrows in surprise as the man continued, “That carpet there is worn and I tripped on a torn bit … it’s dangerous and I’ll sue you for negligence …”
“The carpet is in a private property” said the priest, “and you had no reason to be in the house at all at this time of night. How did you get in?”
“I broke the kitchen window … I thought the place was empty …”
“Perhaps I’d better call an ambulance and the police …” replied Father Ignatius as he got up from the man’s feet. “I’d advise you not to go anywhere with this injury, I doubt you can outrun the dog!”
The priest phoned the emergency services and walked down to the front door to let them in. The police were first to arrive ten minutes later followed by an ambulance. They walked up to the second floor to find the man still motionless on the floor with the dog staring at him a few feet away.
They put the man on a stretcher and as he was carried away he complained to the police that he wanted to sue for compensation for the accident caused by the worn carpet.
“Yes Harry … I understand. We’ll sort it out later” said one of the policemen as he followed him into the ambulance.
The other policeman stayed behind to take a statement from the priest as to what had happened. He inspected the damaged window in the kitchen and then went up to inspect the worn carpet.
“Technically, Harry is correct Father” he said, “this carpet is dangerous and you are liable for causing an injury to a visitor.”
“But … but … he is not a visitor. He is an intruder in the middle of the night having broken a window to get in. He could have attacked me …”
“Be that as it may Father … you caused the injury which landed him in hospital. You are fortunate that the dog didn’t attack him as we would have had other claims to deal with …”
Father Ignatius was at a loss for words. His mind was so confused by what he’d just heard that momentarily he forgot to pray about it. He was too concerned about facing substantial claims for injuries which the church could not afford to pay.
“We know the lad,” said the policeman, “he’s wanted for other break-ins. We’ll interview him in hospital in the morning and keep in touch Father.”
As the policeman left Father Ignatius shut the door and looked up at the Crucifix on the wall in the entrance hall and said, “What now? How do you intend to solve this Lord?”
He then went to the kitchen to pick up the broken glass and somehow secure the window for the night. He glanced at Mrs Davenport’s cottage which had not been disturbed whatsoever. “No doubt she’s tucked in bed” he thought to himself.
The next day, at about ten in the morning, the two policemen returned.
“We’ve interviewed the young man,” said one of the policemen, “he’s wanted for a number of robberies from houses in this area and we found several stolen items on his premises.
“We’ve come to an agreement regarding the injuries sustained whilst on your property. He has badly bruised his ankle but, fortunately for him and you Father, there are no broken bones.
“As he has not stolen anything from your property, we have agreed not to take into consideration the break-in here if he doesn’t pursue a claim for injury from you.
“Is this arrangement agreeable to you Father?”
“Er … yes … yes, of course.” replied a confused Father Ignatius.
“As it is,” continued the police officer, “he’ll be facing a number of other charges relating to all the stolen property we’ve recovered … and he’s likely to be put away for a long time. So there’s no need to mention the break-in here.”
“I understand,” mumbled the priest.
“And it’ll save us a lot of paper-work writing a report about your break-in,” continued the policeman, “although, you should have that carpet fixed Father. You may not be so lucky next time if an intruder were to get injured in a fall!”
As the two men left, Father Ignatius looked up to the Crucifix and said, “You have a novel way of sorting things out. I’d better get the carpet and kitchen window fixed I suppose!”
Sunday, 27 March 2011
“It’s jolly decent of you to come and see me so quickly Padre … I’m in real difficulty you see …”
Father Ignatius put down his cup of coffee and said nothing. He encouraged Theodore to go on by nodding politely.
“It’s Gregor McBurnish … you know him of course … he played the bagpipes at out wedding!”
The priest nodded again.
“Well … he’s let me down badly … he’s gone abroad. Australia, or New Zealand I believe … he went to visit distant family. You can’t get more distant than Australia I say … what?”
Father Ignatius smiled.
“And now I’m in trouble with Colonel Grant … old Army friend. That’s where you come in … I thought. You’re a decent chap ... Never let me down … unlike McBurnish … You can help save the day with Colonel Grant … He is Catholic you know … but he hasn’t been in Church for years … Grant that is, not McBurnish. He’s Church of Scotland you know.”
“I don’t think I understand …” Father Ignatius enquired.
“I need your help to sort out Colonel Grant … you can handle a gun I take it?” asked Theodore.
Father Ignatius was taken aback at the question.
“No … no …” mumbled the priest, “Why don’t you start from the beginning Theodore. What trouble are you in exactly …”
“Well … ehm … every two years Colonel Grant holds a shooting contest at his mansion some thirty miles or so from here … McBurnish and I are always on the same team … he can’t make it this year so I thought you’d replace him …”
The priest breathed a sigh of relief.
“Ah … I understand. But … but … I’ve never ever been near a gun, never mind shoot it …”
“I suppose not …” interrupted Theodore, “the Bishop’s crook is more your weapon of choice what?” He laughed heartily.
“And I wouldn’t be comfortable shooting at birds or rabbits or whatever …” continued the priest.
“Oh no … it’s not that.” Theodore interrupted again. “We shoot at clay pigeons … little clay discs which are thrust into the air by a machine. You shout “PULL” … the chap at the machine releases the disc high in the air and you shoot it before it hits the ground. We play in teams of two and then there’s a decent lunch at the mansion. You’ll get to meet some new people and you’d be doing me a great favor Padre. It’s in three weeks time and I could teach you to shoot …”
The day in question was pleasant enough although not Father Ignatius’ cup of tea. As expected, he was paired with Theodore and despite trying his best the priest missed more clay discs than hit them. Fortunately, Theodore was a better marksman and did not miss one disc.
During the buffet lunch which followed Father Ignatius mingled with the guests and it was soon obvious that he had nothing in common with these people. He wondered why he had agreed to accompany Theodore and wished he’d soon return to his more mundane lifestyle at St Vincent Church.
As the priest decided to go out for a walk in the gardens there was an almighty clattering of dishes breaking and cutlery falling in the dining room. He turned round and saw a man fall to the ground … It was Colonel Grant.
The guests picked him up and sat him in a chair, whereupon he asked to speak to the guest priest.
Father Ignatius approached him and the other guests moved away to give them some privacy. The Colonel was conscious and spoke quietly to the priest whilst someone phoned for an ambulance. Theodore tried to contact the Colonel’s wife who had gone to town for the day.
Eventually the ambulance arrived and took the Colonel to hospital. He died of a heart attack on the way there.
On the way back to St Vincent Church both men remained quiet for a while. Finally Theodore spoke:
“It was lucky you were there Father …” he said, “God must have wanted you to be there for the Colonel … that’s why McBurnish had to go to Australia and miss the shoot …”
“I’ll admit I did not want to go with you at first,” Father Ignatius replied, “but God had something different in mind. He must surely love the Colonel to ensure there was a priest with him in his final moments!”
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Normally such words would gladden the heart of any priest. To learn that someone has received the calling from God and is only too willing to respond. But this was not the reaction of Father Ignatius at Norman’s sudden announcement.
“Father … did you hear me?” continued Norman sitting uncomfortably in the armchair in the priest’s office. Father Ignatius sat back behind his desk and said calmly:
“When did you decide that this is what you wish to do?”
“It took a long time … I didn’t decide as such … I felt, and still feel and believe, that God is calling me to the priesthood …” stammered Norman.
“At first I was confused … this can’t be, I thought. I tried to get the thought out of my mind … but it kept coming back … stronger than ever … I know deep in my heart that this is what I have to do … God is asking me to be a priest …”
“Have you discussed it with Helen?” enquired the priest.
“No … no … I can’t” replied Norman looking down to the ground, “not yet anyway … I thought I’d talk to you first … I … I … I wanted your opinion, and advice.”
“Norman … you realize it is impossible for you to become a priest!” Father Ignatius said as gently as he could.
“Just because I’m married … why should that stop me becoming a priest?” interrupted the young man, “it happens in other denominations …”
“I know it does,” Father Ignatius continued, “and perhaps at some date in the future it may well happen in our Church too. I don’t know about that … But right now, a married man with children, as in your case, cannot become a priest …”
“But … I feel God is calling me …” interrupted Norman.
“That may well be true … Again, I don’t know about that. Would God invite you to be a priest as a married man …”
“I’ve often felt drawn to the priesthood …” Norman interrupted once more.
“Do you remember Father, all those years ago; when Helen and I came to tell you we wished to marry? You jokingly asked me whether I wish to become a priest instead! And you asked her whether she’d like to be a nun rather than be shackled with me …”
The priest smiled.
“And do you remember even earlier than that … well before I even met Helen … you suggested to me once that I might consider priesthood …”
“Yes … I always thought you’d be well suited to the vocation. You would have made a good priest.” Father Ignatius agreed.
“But at the time I was not ready … somehow I believed that’s not what God wanted. Perhaps I was mistaken … or just did not listen to God’s prompting. Then I met Helen and we fell in love. But now I’m sure that’s what God is asking me to do. I’ve been a Deacon for four years … yet it’s not enough … I want to be a priest.”
“Why is it not enough?” asked the priest gently.
“I don’t know … I just feel and believe that’s what God wants of me … At first I thought it was my mind making things up. I dismissed the idea believing it to be impossible … but it keeps coming back …
“Why can’t I be a priest and married … St Peter was married was he not? He was good enough to be chosen by Jesus … why not me?”
Father Ignatius ignored the question.
“How do you envisage being a priest and married at the same time, with your family responsibilities?” he asked Norman.
“I don’t know …” mumbled the distraught young man.
“I’ve thought it over again and again. You know in the Bible Jesus saying in Matthew Chapter 16 Verse 24; I looked it up … ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me’.
“I suspect Peter and the other disciples must have left their families behind to follow Jesus wherever He went …”
“And is that what you’re planning to do? Leave Helen and the children to fend for themselves?” Father Ignatius asked in his quiet and calm tone of voice.
“No … of course not. I couldn’t do that.” retorted Norman, “I love my wife and children. I couldn’t possibly leave them … That’s why I came to you. I’m all confused. I couldn’t leave my job and responsibilities … the house is not fully paid for … I … I … I don’t know what to think anymore …
“These thoughts have been torturing me for some time now. I know and understand my responsibilities as a husband and a father … but I firmly believe that I am called to the vocation …”
“I believe you are …” replied the priest surprisingly.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do.” he continued, “I’ll discuss what you’ve told me with Monsignor Thomas at Bishop’s House. I’ll seek his advice. In the meantime I suggest you pray some more about this, and discuss it with Helen … I’ll pray for you too, and leave it in God’s hands to show us how to proceed.”
All this happened a long time ago. The Church understood and sympathized with Norman but could not accept him as a priest. He eventually left and became a priest in another denomination, supported by his wife and children. Father Ignatius still keeps in touch.
Sunday, 20 March 2011
Raymond was a policeman who was shot whilst on duty and condemned to a lifetime in a wheelchair. Sure, he got compensation and a pension, but this was in no way reparation for what he went through as his young life was suddenly changed overnight.
About a year after the shooting Raymond’s marriage broke down as his wife left him and moved to another town to live with her new lover. Ironically, he was a policeman too. A friend of Raymond. She took with her their two young children.
So, in that moment when Raymond was shot he effectively lost his mobility, his wife and children, his marriage, his job and his best friend.
He often wished he’d lost his life instead. He was on permanent pain-killers and took to drinking to ease the mental and physical agony which tortured his every hour.
Understandably, he stopped going to church, but that did not keep him out of Father Ignatius’ mind and reach. The kindly priest visited Raymond at home every now and then to offer whatever practical help he could.
He arranged for a housekeeper to visit to do the cleaning, cooking and shopping as needed, and a buildings contractor to make the necessary alterations to the house to accommodate a wheelchair user.
As time went by, Father Ignatius continued to visit Raymond for friendly chats and to see he was settling down as best as he could to his new circumstances. Once or twice the priest encouraged Raymond back to church, offering to arrange transport when needed. But this was politely and resolutely refused.
Raymond, it seems, blamed God for what had happened to him.
“I really appreciate your help and sympathy Father,” he said, “and I accept them, reluctantly, from you as a friend … not a priest.
“I don’t need your or anyone else’s sympathy … I don’t want people to look at me in this contraption and feel pity for me …
“I was offered a job as a civilian in the police force, as well as my full pension … but I turned them down. I did not want to be a statistic to help them prove that they have an Equal Opportunities Policy and that they employ all people regardless of disability, race, gender orientation or whatever.
“I am not a statistic Father. I am me … Raymond the cripple!
“Does God understand that? I have always been a good person, a devout Catholic attending church and helping whenever possible … I was on the Parish Council well before you came at St Vincent, Father …
“And how does God reward me? By putting me in this chair and turning my life upside down …”
Father Ignatius knew that the time was not right to get into theological discussion with Raymond. It was obvious that the man was still hurting both literally and mentally and the priest realized that when a man is starving you feed him first before giving him a Bible!
“I see you have a fine collection of empty drinks bottles here …” said the priest changing the subject.
“They help ease the pain.” Raymond replied, “that, and the medicines I take …”
“It’s not wise to mix drink and medicine,” continued Father Ignatius.
“And what will it do Father? Kill me? At least then I’d be out of this chair.”
Father Ignatius chose not to respond. He sat down and picked up a bottle and started reading the label.
“You can’t imagine how empty I feel inside, Father,” Raymond said after a while, “I’m thirty-five with no future, no family and no hope … stuck to this wheelchair whilst the man who put me here will soon be free …
“When I say I’m empty … perhaps it’s wrong … I’m full of resentment, and hate and bitterness at the unfairness and injustice of it all …”
“And full of drink too …” mumbled the priest.
“Trust you to see the funny side … even in this situation,” said Raymond. “I’m surprised you didn’t put your professional hat on and tell me how much God loves me, and how much He cares for me … perhaps He was too busy doing something else the day I got shot!”
“No … I wouldn’t preach to you about God …” Father Ignatius replied, “it’s not my job right now …”
“If God wants to speak to you … He’ll do so Himself in His own time …” the priest went on, “No … I’m here for more selfish reasons … I need your help.”
“How so?” asked Raymond.
“I’d like you to come and have a chat with the older pupils at school about life in general …” Father Ignatius replied.
“They’re at that age where they are striking out for independence … some of them have started smoking cigarettes … a few of the boys carry knives … just for show, you understand …
“I doubt they’d listen to an old fogy like me. Especially one wearing a white Catholic collar round his neck …
“You, on the other hand, seem ideal … you’ve been a policeman …”
Father Ignatius stopped for a while pretending to think about the proposal he’d just made.
“No … it wouldn’t work … I doubt they’d listen to you either … the police is hardly more popular than a priest … forget I mentioned it …”
“What would you want me to talk about?” Raymond interrupted.
“I don’t know … I was just thinking aloud … I just thought … stupid of me really … I thought that if we could save at least one child from getting into trouble with the police, or from getting injured or killed in a gang fight … then perhaps it would be worth it you speaking to them … but it wouldn’t work …”
The priest dropped the subject and left Raymond.
Over the weeks that followed the policeman thought about Father Ignatius’ suggestion and eventually contacted the priest offering to do one talk at the school.
It went well. Not an overwhelming success, but just well enough to get Raymond out of his self-imposed shell for a short while.
And that’s when God intervened.
One of the youngsters got in trouble with the police for fighting using a knife. The priest managed to keep him out of Court and suggested to the Authorities that the youth be obliged to attend “probational sessions” with the ex-policeman instead.
The experiment worked well in as much that the young boy’s behavior improved. The police hired Raymond on a part-time basis to help with other delinquent youths.
In time, Raymond eased off the drink … to set a good example to the youths.
The physical pain and the memories are still there … they’ll never go away. But they are eased every now and then as the ex-policeman succeeds in slowly accepting his situation.
“At least he’s started to attend church once again …” thought Father Ignatius.
Monday, 7 March 2011
The Chairman of the Meeting welcomed all present and said:
“Thank you for attending this Meeting which we have arranged to discuss a matter on which the Hospital Board has asked for our views. Over the past few months there have been a number of premature births in this hospital and, as you would imagine, it has proved a very difficult and emotive issue for both the medical staff and parents to deal with.
“Let me introduce Doctor Farmington who will address us for a few minutes on the subject in question.”
The doctor stood up and explained about instances when babies are born pre-maturely, some as early as twenty three weeks into pregnancy. He explained that despite medical advancements and efforts made to save the infant, in the majority of cases, those who survived, had severe physical and mental disabilities throughout life.
These disabilities, sometimes painful, resulted in the child leading a very difficult existence dependent on others and on constant medical attention, with no hope of ever being cured to lead a normal life.
The doctor also explained that often, the very intervention by medical staff to save the baby, created medical risks which would adversely affect the infant in later life; for example brain damage, infection and so on.
The dilemma facing the medical profession was whether it would be more humane to let such premature babies just pass away peacefully rather than condemn them to a difficult and often miserable life.
The doctor was followed by a Senior Social Worker who went on to add that in a large number of cases, where the baby was saved despite the severe disabilities, the strain on the family was such that marriages frequently ended in divorce causing further pain and heartache to everyone involved. Furthermore, in many cases any other children in the family suffered too because of the extra attention and resources afforded to the disabled child by the parents. Often one or both parents had to give up work to look after the disabled child putting further pressure on the families’ finances.
The debate went on as to the limited financial resources available by families and the State to assist in such cases.
One or two parents at the meeting maintained that disabled children are well-loved by their parents and are central to their families despite their disabilities. They talked about the sanctity of life and how they, as parents, had the right to decide on medical intervention and not the medics or anyone else.
“You’re very quiet Father,” said the Chairman of the Meeting, “Although I might guess on your views …”
A few people laughed.
“By guessing my views, you may well save me the agony of having to decide on this …” replied Father Ignatius.
The Meeting fell silent.
“I fully appreciate the difficult decisions that have to be made by all concerned in such cases as premature births …” continued the priest.
“It is true of course that where the medics intervene, using their great skills, the results more often than not are a disabled child unable to fend for himself throughout what could be a long life.
“As we’ve heard, this puts a great strain on all concerned and marriages often break-up as a result inflicting further pain on the whole family.
“Understandably, the parents in such cases want everything possible to be done to save the child, and they cling to faint hope that all will turn out well. This is Faith indeed, albeit in reality, as we’ve heard, in most cases it is misplaced Faith since the surviving child is permanently and severely disabled.
“Yet, we must remember, that in these traumatic few moments when a decision has to be made, the parents are acting without any medical knowledge or facts whatsoever, and they base their decisions to save the child on pure loving instincts.
“Faced on the one hand with definite medical and statistical evidence of the outcomes of intervention, and on the other hand on parental love, hope and faith … how are we as a society to decide on this terrible dilemma?
“Who are we, I ask, to play God and decide to condemn a human being to a life of misery for themselves and those around them?
“If a child is born pre-maturely, extremely so in some cases, is this not a sign that the mother's body has rejected it because there is something wrong with it? By intervening are we not interfering with the natural course of event?”
The doctor and the Social Worker smiled sensing the argument going in their favor. Father Ignatius stopped for a second or two as he often did to focus peoples’ attention.
“Let me invite you to consider something else,” he continued.
“There are instances where babies are born after their full pregnancy term, yet, they are born with severe difficulties; like a hole in the heart for example …
“What do the medics do then? Do they reject them as faulty and let them die?
“Or do they do their utmost to help these young lives who sometimes, they too, grow up with disabilities?
“So I ask myself, what is the difference between a child born pre-maturely and another born after its full term? Why should one benefit from the skills and expertise of the doctors and not the other?
“Our skills, whatever they are, are God-given. We’ve done nothing by ourselves to achieve what we achieve.
“A skilled doctor for instance owes his skills and aptitude to assimilate and use knowledge to a Higher Being. This applies to all of us.
“And as such we owe that Higher Being, God, a duty to use our skills, whatever they are, for the benefit of humanity.
“Rather than ask whether the doctors should intervene in the case of pre-mature babies, why don’t we ask God to intervene? Don’t we trust Him enough?
“My views, Mr Chairman, if you’ve guessed them correctly … are that the doctors should do their best with the skills and expertise at their disposal to help these young lives … and then leave it to God to intervene as to the quality and length of life which transpires as a result of their efforts.”
Friday, 4 March 2011
Our kind priest had to attend hospital for blood tests. He had never been to this Medical Department before so he decided to take off his white collar and go incognito so as not to attract attention to himself and perhaps gain favor over other patients.
He was generally a jovial character with a keen, albeit singular, sense of humor. He saw the funny side of any situation where others would perhaps be more serious and withdrawn.
Clutching the Medical Card given him by his doctor, Father Ignatius sat in the hospital waiting-room for his name to be called by the nurse in charge.
He picked up a magazine to pass the time. He noted that it was thirteen months old. He looked at the various pictures and then picked up another one. It was almost the same vintage as the previous publication.
He wondered why hospital and doctors’ waiting-rooms always had very old magazines. He had asked a dentist once and the medic told him that it was deliberate to calm down patients especially when they are apprehensive at meeting the medical profession. Apparently, the world is changing so fast, and not for the better, so by placing old magazines in receptions people would remember fondly “the good old times” albeit the journals are only a few months old.
The priest was not convinced of this explanation. He picked up an old newspaper and expected reading the news of a ship named the Titanic sinking!
Moments later a young lady in her late twenties came in the room and sat next to him. She was holding a similar card from her doctor for blood tests. She kept crossing and uncrossing her legs and looking at her watch every few minutes willing it to move faster.
“They’re taking a long time to deal with patients aren’t they?” she asked the priest.
“Perhaps they’re looking for new leeches,” replied Father Ignatius with a smile.
“What … is that how they take blood these days?” said the young lady to the amusement of the other patients sitting in the room.
“No … of course not … It’s more advanced now. You have nothing to worry about.” Father Ignatius replied reassuringly.
“I’m in a hurry you see …” she went on, “I’d heard that medical advancements in recent years have been wonderful. It’s such a pity we still have to wait ages to get the benefits.”
“You can go in before me if you wish” he offered, “If I could, I’d take your Medical Card with me and give blood on your behalf. So you won’t have to wait …” he continued with an obvious smile indicating he was joking of course.
“Oh that’s very kind …” she interrupted, “that would be helpful”.
The other patients in the room looked up incredulously. Father Ignatius was about to say something. She looked at her watch once again and interrupted him.
“The thing is …” she said in a lower voice, “I’m pregnant and a little anemic. I wouldn’t want you to catch what I’ve got.”
“I understand …” Father Ignatius said, “especially since I’m not even married!”