As Father Ignatius arrived at Old Henry’s cottage he recognized the doctor’s car pulling away, so he parked in the vacant space and rang the doorbell.
The seventy-five year old opened the door ashen faced and not having shaved for a few days.
As the priest went into the house he asked tentatively, “That was the doctor leaving … have you not been well Henry?”
The old man sat down and said: “I’ve been in terrible pains since Friday night. Shivering and feeling cold yet sweating and with a temperature. I felt tired and light-headed and thought my time had come!”
“Since Friday night?” asked the priest, “did you call the doctor then?”
“Yes I did. There was no one there. And they don’t work during the weekend either. The doctor finally came on Monday … and he came again today. You just saw him leaving!
“He gave me a variety of pills … all different pretty colours like sweets, and said if I don’t improve he’ll take me to hospital.
“Fat chance! I can’t go to hospital and leave the dog at home alone.”
“But … if this started on Friday night, why did you not call me Henry? I would have come straightaway!” said Father Ignatius.
“Oh … I thought you’d be too busy Father” Henry replied, “I bet you had the church full of sinners at every Mass this weekend. Am I right?” he asked with a glint in his eye.
The priest smiled.
“The thing is …” continued Henry, “at my age I don’t have much opportunity to sin. I don’t think I’ve broken any of the Commandments. I haven’t killed anyone nor stolen anything … and I doubt I have the energy to covet anything my neighbour might have … either his wife, who is ugly and as large as a gorilla, or his donkey … because he hasn’t got one!!!” He chuckled to himself.
“But I’ll tell you something Father …” he continued, “I did despair with God over the last few days … Now that’s a sin I’m sure!
“I was in terrible pain and although I prayed He didn’t listen. Too busy with someone else I suppose … I begged Him many times to take the pain away, but it got worse. At times I did pass out and slept for hours then the pain would wake me again.
“I thought God had abandoned me.
“I still believed in Him you know. I believed in His power to heal and His love for us. I knew He could heal me … but I felt He did not want to.
“Now why would He do that?
“He can heal, yet He withholds His healing power for some … including me. I suppose I lost my Faith in Him.”
“That is not so,” said Father Ignatius gently, “when we are in difficulty, or as in your case, in great pain, we doubt and we question, but we do not lose our Faith.
“Our human nature can’t understand what is happening to us. But deep inside we still believe. The very fact that we pray when in pain, or in despair, shows that we believe there is Someone there listening to our prayers. Such moments of great difficulties strengthen our Faith, not weaken it.
“You said yourself that you still believed in God. So your Faith remained intact.
“But your pain and your fears said otherwise. The trauma of it all overwhelmed you.
“It’s human nature. God knows that.
“When Jesus was on the Cross, His human nature thought He’d been abandoned. But His Godly nature, as part of The Holy Trinity, knew otherwise.
“So have no fears Henry! God loves you and He has already forgiven you.”
The old man smiled feebly.
“Now tell me,” continued the priest, “did the doctor say what you can eat?”
“He said toast and butter would be OK, and tea with lemon, not milk.”
“I can do that … how about a hot meal?”
“He said chicken soup with bread … something light!”
“Mrs Davenport, our housekeeper, makes a great chicken soup with vegetables,” said Father Ignatius, “I’ll ask her to bring you some this afternoon.”
Over the next few days Father Ignatius made sure that a group of people took turns at visiting Old Henry until he was up on his feet and ready to sin again. Small sins of course!