Father Ignatius usually waited at the door of the church to greet the parishioners on Sunday as they left after Mass. He noticed that for the last few weeks there was a new face amongst his flock. A man in his mid-thirties, always alone, speaking to no one and leaving in a posh new car. Unlike the old rusty cars that normally frequent this church in a poor desolate town hit hard by the downturn of the economy.
One Sunday, the priest introduced himself to the newcomer as he was leaving church.
"You're new here," he said, "welcome to our parish. I am Father Ignatius!"
"Hello Father," replied the man, "how remiss of me not to introduce myself. Perhaps we can go somewhere to talk. After the congregation has all left, that is."
Minutes later, both men were sitting in Father Ignatius' office enjoying a cup of coffee and biscuits.
"I'm not from this town," explained the man, "although I have been visiting churches in this town, and others, for the last six months or so. I visit a church for a few Sundays and then move on to another one."
"I see," replied the priest with a smile, "you're not like one of those Michelin or Egon Ronay people who visit restaurants and publish guides giving each restaurant a number of stars depending on quality, are you?"
The man smiled. "No," he said, "not quite like that. But I am searching for a priest actually, rather than a church!"
"I don't understand," replied Father Ignatius,"what is this priest's name? Perhaps I know him."
"You see Father," continued the man, "I am running out of priests to confess to. I want, and need, to confess to a priest I can trust and respect. And sadly, there aren't many around these days!"
Father Ignatius was taken aback by the man's response but thought it prudent to say nothing. He picked up the pot of coffee and replenished the man's cup as well as his.
The man continued.
"Let me explain, in the first church I used to attend the priest there used to preach about the sanctity of marriage. How marriage is a Holy Sacrament and it is for ever; and how divorce is wrong.
"I was married at the time and we went to that church for some time, my wife and I.
"Then things went wrong and we divorced. The priest tried his best, to be fair, to get us to reconcile and to save the marriage. But it didn't work out and we divorced.
"He warned me about the Catholic Church's position regarding divorce, re-marriage or even co-habiting with another woman; and explained how difficult it would be to get an annulment of the marriage from the Church.
"Anyway ... I continued to go to that church for a year or so. Then we discovered that this very priest had an affair with a parishioner and that he was leaving the priesthood to marry her.
"I saw him a few months later in the street. I asked him how come marriage is for ever and he can leave the priesthood when he feels like it? He replied that circumstances change! What sort of answer is that?"
Father Ignatius said nothing. It was obvious that this man had a lot on his chest he wanted to get off; and that he was indeed very angry at what seemed to him to be double standards.
"In another church I moved to after that," the man went on, "in conversation, the priest there told me that he did not like the wine because it made him dizzy. I asked him what wine, and he said, the wine in church.
"I was amazed. I said hesitantly that this is not wine, it is the Blood of Christ.
"He smiled and said to me, yes ... some people like to believe so. It is all symbolism, really!
"How can a Catholic priest believe and say something like that openly, Father? It makes me so angry. How can the Catholic Church have priests who believe such a thing? Why don't they make them leave the Church rather than spread their personal beliefs? In another church the priest said he preferred to celebrate Mass in Latin, and with his back to the congregation; like in the old days. He said the current Catholic thinking is wrong."
Father Ignatius was about to speak when the man continued, somewhat irritated.
"I left that church too after a while. In another church the priest there preached from the pulpit that Catholics should be responsible and not breed like rabbits. His very words. When he was asked later whether he condoned contraceptives he said 'NO' and people should use the rythm method instead. What's that? Having a rythm and blues band in the bedroom with you?" asked the man in anger.
Father Ignatius remained silent.
"I'm sorry Father," the man continued after a moment's silence, "I shouldn't get angry with you. I hardly know you and here I am shouting at you.
"But as you can see, I am very upset with the Church and the priesthood. I am just running out of priests to confess to. How can I go to Confession to a priest whom I do not respect; or trust that in a few months time he will not leave the priesthood to get married.
"I can give you many other instances of bad priests I have met in my time. Like the one who was so interested in golf that he postponed a funeral arrangement so he does not miss out on a tournament he was playing at. Or another one, whom I asked to celebrate Mass for a dead relative, and I gave him a generous donation; yet he never celebrated that Mass for my dead parents. Despite two or three reminders.
"Is that Christ-like? Would Jesus have behaved like these priests?"
"I doubt very much that Jesus enjoyed a round of golf," replied Father Ignatius trying to lighten the mood a little.
The man laughed heartily.
"You see," continued Father Ignatius, "you're expecting too much from us priests. No one is perfect. Except God, and Christ, that is.
"Priests, like the original disciples, are ordinary men. With their own faults, weaknesses and foibles. Men, chosen by Christ, who are like the rest of us sinners, full of doubts and confusion.
"Now I am not either excusing or condoning the behaviour or utterences of the priests you have mentioned. I agree with you, there are some priests who perhaps do not meet the standard expected by society or indeed which they owe to our Lord.
"Priests are men who have chosen to follow our Lord by preaching His message to the world. As such, they have a special responsibility and duty to our Lord and they will be answerable to Him one day when they meet face to face.
"As shepherds, their duty is to care for the sheep and to lead them to Heaven. Not risk losing the flock by their behaviour or by what they say or believe.
"I am truly sorry that you seem to have met some priests who have disappointed you. I shall certainly pray for them as I will for you."
Father Ignatius stopped for a while. Something he often did when he wanted to get a point over forcibly.
The man smiled and said nothing. The priest continued.
"Your relationship should be a one-to-one relationship with God. With Jesus; with the help of the Holy Spirit.
"Your responsibility is to Him alone. To love Him and to love your fellow man as best you can.
"The priests and the Church, or Churches from other denominations, are there to set guidelines, road maps, blue prints as to how we can best follow God's message in our lives. These guidelines should be based on Bible teachings and where necessary supplemented by guidance from the priesthood.
"Sadly, as you have found out, not all priests meet the standard expected of them. But this does not take away your responsibility to build a one-to-one relationship with God and to seek His help and guidance when in doubts or in difficulties.
"I hope and pray that you will find a church, or a priest, whom you can respect and trust; as you say. A priest you can discuss matters with, or even go to Confession to.
"My request to you, is that you do not judge us too harshly. Indeed, we are all sinners; some of us perhaps deserving more forgiveness than others."
The man smiled and thanked Father Ignatius for his time listening to him. As he departed, the priest said a silent prayer for all priests who fail to set the good example expected of them.
STORY BASED ON TRUE FACTS
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