Monday, 22 March 2010
Early morning Mass had just finished. Everyone had gone home or to work, except for Simon the gardener. He stayed behind to collect any stray hymn books left in the pews and to clear up in the Sacristy before he put in an hour or two mowing the lawn in the garden behind the church.
“That was an odd reading we had today from 2 Peter 3:8” he said to Father Ignatius as he locked the Sacristy door.
“You remember the exact chapter and verse I see …” replied the priest, “what was so odd about it?”
“I mean … it said ‘There is no difference in the Lord’s sight between one day and a thousand years; to Him the two are the same.’
“That must make it very difficult keeping an appointment with God … imagine Him asking Moses to come up the mountain tomorrow … Moses wouldn’t know whether it’s in twenty four hours’ time or in a thousand years …”
The priest smiled and said nothing.
“Why is God so complicated sometimes?” asked Simon.
“It’s a bit early in the morning for all these questions … I haven’t had my toast and ginger marmalade yet … have you had breakfast?” asked Father Ignatius.
“Er … no … not yet …”
“In that case I suggest we go to the kitchen and prepare something to eat …” continued the priest as he headed for the Parish house.
Minutes later he had set the table with fried eggs and bacon, coffee, toast and marmalade.
“Now then …” said Father Ignatius as he put his cup down, “what’s on your mind Simon?”
“Well … as I was saying … God and the Bible seem so complicated at times. All this business about one day is the same as a thousand years … and the story of the Creation for instance … if God is so powerful why did He need seven days to create the universe … and did He really need a rib from Adam to create Eve? Seems so improbable to me …”
Father Ignatius sympathized with what Simon was saying.
“Remember Simon,” he said, “the Bible is a book of Faith and not necessarily a book of literal facts … not all of it …
“No one was with God at the time of Creation. So no one can say for certain whether it took Him seven days or seven seconds or less even. In reality, it doesn’t matter how long God took to create the universe; or whether he really took a bone from the side of Adam or not. What matters is that we have learnt that God is the ultimate Creator of all that we see and all that we are. And all that we have yet to discover in this great universe.
“The Creation is a story told by the writer of the book of Genesis to teach the people of the time about God. A story inspired by God no doubt, but not necessarily all factual in every detail.”
“That’s what I meant by complicated…” retorted Simon, “how are we to know what is factual and what is not … which bit to believe literally and which not?”
Father Ignatius chuckled gently.
“I see what you mean,” he said.
“Over the years, and in preparation for the priesthood, I have studied and read many books,” continued Father Ignatius, “you’d be surprised how many different views and opinions there are about God, the teachings of the Bible and theology in general.
“For centuries many learned wise heads have surmised and pronounced on various issues concerning God and Christianity. To the point where we have made it into a science; a discipline worthy of study at our universities and such like.
“And after all of my studies I’ve reached one conclusion …
“God is not complicated at all … it is us who make Him complicated.
“We question and analyze every aspect of our religion and our Faith. We try to understand in human terms what is not of human origin. We dissect our very Creator as if He were an insect in a laboratory and debate His very existence.
“This is wrong surely …
“God is simply love. He created us out of love and wishes the best for us. He wishes to share eternity with us.
“But we distanced ourselves from Him through our sin. And when we did so, He did not give up on us.
“He loved us so much that He sent His Son on earth, so that we may see Him in human terms. Can you imagine that … really imagine it?
“God walked this earth as a man, just like everyone else. Humans saw Him, spoke to Him and listened to Him. They witnessed His miracles. He died for us, and was raised from the dead so that we may be forgiven.
“It’s as simple as that … God created us, and loved us so much that He came down on earth and lived amongst us.
“God does not ask us to understand His ways or to know how things work … He doesn’t expect us to analyze His motives and His strategies … He just wants us to step out in Faith and dare to trust Him … to love Him … and to obey Him.”
“I like that … to step out in Faith and dare to trust Him …” repeated Simon.
“That’s right,” said Father Ignatius as he poured another cup of coffee, “let us stop trying to find answers where He doesn’t want us to … let’s trust Him that His ways are superior and better than ours, and that His love will see us through … if we let Him.
“Let God work in your life, rather than waste time working out all about Him.”
Friday, 19 March 2010
This prayer to St. Joseph is over 1900 years old.
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen
Say for nine consecutive mornings for anything you may desire. It has seldom been known to fail.
This prayer was found in the fiftieth year of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1500's it was sent by the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle.
Whoever reads this prayer or hears it or carries it, will never die a sudden death, nor be drowned, nor will poison take effect on them. They will not fall into the hands of the enemy nor be burned in any fire, nor will they be defeated in battle.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
The first thing Father Ignatius noticed as he entered hell is the total and absolute darkness of the place. Not the faintest glimmer of light shone in that bottomless abyss of intense void.
He tried hard to peer into the pitch-black darkness to make out something, but it was totally in vain. He could see nothing. Totally and completely nothing.
It was then that he noticed the full and utter silence which accompanied the extreme blackness of this place. Not a sound whatsoever. It was as if he had gone suddenly deaf. He rubbed his fingers in his ears and concentrated hard but silence reigned supreme. He clapped his hands together but heard nothing. He spoke to himself and could not hear his own voice.
Darkness and silence had partnered together and negated all the senses as he knew them. He could not smell anything whatsoever. No burning fires and brimstone, or the acrid smell of sulfur he’d expected in this place. He could feel no burning sensation and pain. No cries of help or gnashing of teeth.
In other words; hell was nothing.
Hell was a total void of everything physical as he’d experienced in his previous life.
Yet in this pure nothingness he felt a very powerful and intense feeling of extreme sadness. An overwhelming grief leading to desolation and desperation tormented his very soul.
A continuous sensation of sorrow and anguish filled the emptiness which was hell.
He sensed another soul there too. He could not make out who or where it was but it was there, somehow, sharing the void with him.
He felt a telepathic communication with this spirit in similar torment. Not in words, not in images, but in a mutual empathic sensation, as if the two were one.
He shared that soul’s torment which had lasted for … … … an eternity.
There seemed to be no beginning as to when that soul arrived in this eternal void, nor any prospect of when its terrible terrible suffering would end. The total and perfect hopelessness of this state of nothingness, this state of wretched emptiness, engulfed the forgotten soul consumed by its everlasting regrets.
For this lost soul constantly and interminably viewed and reviewed over and again its past life on earth; filled with memories best forgotten yet brought to mind with no respite. The inner pain from such memories tortured this forgotten soul left here all alone.
Father Ignatius shared with this soul the deep desire to weep bitterly for its past mistakes and its present solitary ordeal. But this was not possible, for there are no tears in hell. No matter how strong the desire to cry in profound regret, and so gain some temporary relief, this was not possible in a state of void. So the pain, sorrow and sadness built up within one’s soul and consumed it eternally from within; with no respite whatsoever.
And what is worse, is that the soul’s constant feelings of regret were persistently underlined by another sensation.
For it knew with unshakable certainty of the existence of God.
This tormented soul had been given, on entering hell, undoubted and unquestionable proof that God indeed exists. And somehow, it had witnessed His immeasurable and overwhelming love for His creations.
Yet the soul also knew, without a doubt, that for an interminable eternity, it would be totally excluded from that Fatherly, Divine love.
Father Ignatius realized that hell consisted of complete isolation with ones thoughts and regrets, and the sure knowledge that there will never be an end in sight. No light at the end of the tunnel. For there is no tunnel.
A permanent state of inner pain and sorrow, coupled with the knowledge that God’s love is for ever out of reach.
“What a terrible state of despair and hopelessness” thought Father Ignatius, “to know for certain that God exists; and to know of His love for us; yet to be excluded from that perfect love for ever. To remain here, in a state of total void, filled with past memories and regrets for deeds long past. Alone, in permanent thoughts of total and infinite exclusion!”
Father Ignatius woke up suddenly from his turbulent dream.
It was then that he heard in his head, clear as a bell, the words: “Go and warn all you get to meet not to come to this place!”
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Once again Father Ignatius was teaching Catechism to the 5th Form at the local Catholic School. They were discussing the Commandment about respecting one’s parents and as one would expect the youngsters had plenty to say about that.
“It’s alright to have to respect our parents,” said a young girl, “but surely they should respect us too?”
“I suppose I understand,” replied the priest reassuringly, “can you elaborate on this?”
“Well …” she hesitated, “I am fifteen years old and I don’t think I should be told what time I have to be home by …”
“What does anyone else think?” asked Father Ignatius.
“I agree …” replied another young girl, “my parents are just the same. They insist I’m at home by 9.30; can you imagine that? 9.30!!!”
“It’s their way of exerting power” said one of the boys, “my parents always think they know better …”
“That’s right …” added another lad, “my father has banned me from visiting the disco in town. It’s not fair!”
The priest let the youngsters vent their frustrations for a few minutes, and then he got up from his desk and moved towards the blackboard.
This had the desired effect of shutting them up for a while. He then picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on the board in big letters:
“IT’S NOT FAIR”
And proceeded to sit down once again.
After a few seconds silence he said in a soft voice, “I’ve heard many of you say it’s not fair just now … do you agree?”
“Yeah !!!” said one or two of them.
“I can understand that …” continued Father Ignatius, “from your perspective it may seem not fair that your parents impose certain restrictions on you. Perhaps it’s because the reasons for the restrictions have not been explained to you … but no matter for now.
“I would like if I may to explore the statement ‘It’s not fair.’ Can we do that do you think?”
They nodded in agreement. They had a lot of respect for his kind approach and the way he sympathized with their situation.
“No one has ever said that life is fair” continued the priest, “or meant to be fair even.
“What we perceive as fairness in our eyes may not be so to someone else.
“I visited a few of our parishioners in hospital yesterday. There was a young boy of twelve with an incurable illness. That’s not fair … the chances are he will not make it to his next birthday and his parents were totally distraught.
“I also met the family of a man in a coma. He had been injured in a road accident and has been unconscious ever since. No one knows when or if he will recover. The family is now short of cash and they may well lose their home. That’s not fair.
“Every other day or so, I hear of someone in our Parish being made redundant, and losing their job because of the current economic situation. They’ve done nothing wrong and they’re now on the street. That’s not fair.”
He stopped as he noticed one of the girls upfront getting a little tearful.
“What I’m trying to say …” he said gently after a short pause, “is that I sympathize entirely with you. You see your parents actions as unfair, yet perhaps you miss the point that they do what they do out of love for you. It is because they care.
“I had similar problems with my parents when I was young. My father was a farmer and as you’d expect he brought vegetables fresh from the land home for dinner. And like many a young child, I hated vegetables. Especially spinach … it looked like boiled grass!”
They laughed in unison.
“But they made me eat my vegetables … it’s not fair!”
They laughed again.
“And talking of fairness …” went on Father Ignatius, “I read that an innocent man has been falsely arrested, beaten up and tortured, and nailed to a Cross to die.
“Now that’s really not fair.
“You can read all about it in the Bible.”
He paused again to gauge the situation before continuing.
“So whilst I understand how you feel about your parents and the way they restrict you sometimes, I urge you please to accept it in obedience for the sake of Jesus who did so much for you. And still does.
“Is that a deal?” he asked with a smile.
And as always, his gentle loving empathy gained him their respect and sincere appreciation.
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Father Ignatius tries not to get involved with politics or speak directly about politics. But what do you do as a priest when politics gets involved with you?
There he was one morning enjoying his usual breakfast of hot coffee and ginger marmalade on toast when Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, came in and put the morning mail on the table beside him. She then sat down at the table and poured herself some tea.
“Hmmm…” said Father Ignatius as he finished his breakfast, “that top envelope looks a bit officious to me. It bears the mark of the Local Authority. I wonder what they want.”
Moments later he sat at his office and opened the brown envelope first. It was a letter from someone who called himself “Senior Noise Pollution Engineer”.
“I wonder what a Junior Noise Pollution Engineer does;” thought the priest, “concern himself with whispers and murmurs perhaps.”
The main point of the letter was that the Local Authority had decided to stop St Vincent Church from ringing its bells on Sundays, weddings and funerals. In fact, to stop ringing the bells altogether.
Apparently this particular engineer had “carried out audiometric tests in the park opposite the church and it transpired that an excessive number of decibels had been recorded on several occasions when the church bells were ringing. The decision had therefore been taken to discontinue bell ringing altogether.”
The priest continued reading:
“Whilst the establishment in question has the right to appeal against this decision it is pointed out that this would be in vain unless there was evidence of extenuating circumstances as to why the practice of bell ringing should continue.”
“Where do they learn to write like that?” thought the priest as he prayed silently for God’s help and advice.
Having decided to appeal against the decision, Father Ignatius prayed daily whilst awaiting the day of the hearing, which was to take place at the Town Hall. In the meantime, he decided not to tell Father Donald or Mrs Davenport about the letter. Not for now at least.
On the day in question he arrived at the Town Hall and was led to a Conference Room on the second floor. There sitting opposite him, facing him across the table, were five stern faced people who would hear his appeal.
After a few polite introductions he was asked by the author of the letter what was the basis of his appeal.
“Well …” said Father Ignatius hesitantly, “I am not sure what you consider as extenuating circumstances, as you say in your letter, Mr Wall.
“St Vincent Church was built almost sixty years ago and it has rang its bells ever since. The bells themselves are about three hundred years old and were salvaged from a monastery which stood on that very site centuries ago. It is traditional to ring the bells on Sundays, weddings and funerals; also at Christmas and Easter.”
“Tradition is no reason for the status quo,” interrupted Mr Wall harshly, “where would we be if we relied on tradition? They’d be no progress at all; and we’d still have the horse and cart.”
The other bureaucratic robots at the table laughed quietly.
“What … what I meant to say,” continued the priest politely, “is that people expect to hear the church bells. Has anyone complained, may I ask?”
“No one has complained …” replied Mr Wall whilst the other men continued writing, “but then if we were to wait for complaints nothing would ever get done. We must be proactive in order to protect the public.”
This seemed to amuse the other four bureaucrats who no doubt worked for Mr Wall.
Father Ignatius was struggling.
“What I’d like to suggest …” he continued, “what if we were to ask the people living near the church whether they think the church bells are too noisy?”
“We can’t expect the public to know what’s good for them …” said Mr Wall authoritatively, “if we had to listen to the public then there would be no need for the Noise Pollution Department of this Local Authority. We are here to decide on behalf of the public; not to listen to them.”
The priest felt as if he was losing the argument. “This man is living up to his name,” he thought, “it’s like talking to a brick wall. He is determined to silence the bells at all cost. Dear God, help me!”
Father Ignatius took off his glasses and started cleaning them. He felt droplets of sweat building up on his forehead. He asked God silently for inspiration.
“It’s very hot in here …” he said putting his glasses back on, “can we open a window perhaps?”
Mr Wall nodded and the man sitting at the end of the table got up and opened the window.
It seems that God was listening to His priest on that day. As soon as the window was opened the noise from the traffic outside drowned their speech in the room.
“Is it always this noisy?” asked Father Ignatius.
“Yes it is …” mumbled Mr Wall, “we can’t do a thing about it … that’s why we keep the windows shut.”
Before the priest could say another word a train passed by the railway station next door.
Clackety clack … clackety clack … clackety clack went the train noisily for a full minute or so as its wheels rattled slowly on the metal rails. And for good measure, it blew its whistle as it left the station; as if to register its own personal disapproval of the bureaucrats sitting there.
As the noise abated a little, it was obvious that God had not finished yet.
Because at that precise moment the clock at the top of the Town Hall started to strike 12o’clock.
At this point the man by the window shut it quickly, but they had to wait until the last chime of the clock before speaking again.
“That’s a beautiful sound …” said Father Ignatius, “I can hear it from my church and I often set my watch to it …”
“Yes we’re proud of it …” replied Mr Wall, “it’s a traditional chime and …”
Father Ignatius smiled as Mr Wall realized what he had just said.
“Well… I think we can conclude this hearing …” said Mr Wall firmly, “we’ve considered your case fully and it has been decided to withdraw the Local Authority’s Notice requiring St Vincent Church to desist from ringing its bells. Your appeal has been successful Father.”
The priest left the Town Hall praising God and floating on air … and he hasn’t heard from Mr Wall or his Noise Pollution Department ever since.
… And the bells are still ringing …
Friday, 12 March 2010
No sooner had Father Ignatius faced a curve ball question from one of his parishioners ill in hospital, that he faced another one that very evening.
He was chairing the monthly “Any Questions” meeting at the Parish Hall. This is an event he had initiated some time ago whereby parishioners and their guests gather of an evening, and after refreshments of tea, coffee, hot chocolate drinks and cakes, they sit in cinema fashion and ask him any question totally un-prepared. Usually the questions are about the day to day running of the church, or the two Catholic schools nearby; but more often than not there are some questions about Christianity and the Catholic Faith.
Father Ignatius was convinced that the hot drinks and cakes were the main attraction; but he was assured this was not the case.
His curve ball came from a young lady sitting at the front.
“Father,” she said, “I can’t help feeling sorry for Judas. What chance did he really have? He had to betray Jesus; because if he didn’t do so, he’d be going against God’s will. So what choice or free will did Judas have?”
The priest put down his cup of coffee and cleaned his spectacles; a trick he had learnt in order to gain time.
“Would it help if I say I don’t know the answer to this?” he said eventually.
After a short pause the young lady continued, “well Father, I don’t understand the difference between our free will, or Judas’ free will, to do as we wish, and pre-destination to do what God has determined will happen.”
Before the priest could answer a man put up his hand and said: “Oddly enough, I was reading about this the other day. In John Chapter 17 I think it was. When Jesus was praying for His disciples He says to God something like ‘I kept the disciples safe. Not one was lost except the one who was meant to be lost so that the Scriptures may come true.’ This implies that Judas had no choice. He was pre-programmed as it were to betray Jesus.”
A few of the audience murmured at this; perhaps they hadn't read or heard about it.
“Free will and pre-destination are matters which have taxed many a learned brain over the centuries,” replied Father Ignatius gently, “and no doubt they will continue to do so.
“I am not God, and so I do not have a definite answer for you. But I assure you I will ask Him when I get to meet Him.
“In the meantime, let us consider the question a bit more.
“When God created us He had two choices.
“He could have created a species of robots. All pre-programmed to obey Him, to love Him and to do His will without question.
“And how trouble-free that would have been! No sin, no rebellion, no satan.
“But God loved us so much that He gave us a precious gift. He gave us the gift to choose. He allowed us to decide whether to love Him back, or not.
“When He invited us to return His love for us, He did so with no coercion whatsoever from His part. Love given freely by Him, and returned freely by us; but only if we want to.
“Hence our free will to choose.
“We are free to decide what we do with our lives. To love and obey Him, or to go our own way.
“Yet having said so, there are instances in the Bible where God does lead, or encourage, certain people in some direction. Look at the way he nudged Paul on the way to Damascus for instance.”
The audience laughed.
“You may well laugh,” continued Father Ignatius, “but God may have seen some good qualities in Paul which could come useful in furthering God’s Word on earth. And how right He was!
“After all, why should the devil have all the good talent?”
The audience laughed again.
“So …,” went on the priest after they had settled down, “whilst on the face of it there is some evidence, in our eyes, that God does lead us in some direction it is somewhat presumptuous on our part to try to analyze when this is pre-destination and when it is free will.
“But this so-called evidence is in our eyes only. Because we try to understand God in human terms. Something we should not do, in my opinion, because we are humans and He is not.
“By analyzing Him in human terms we bring Him down to our level. And this is wrong.
“God does not want us to understand Him and analyze His motives. He wants us to love Him and to dare to obey Him, in blind Faith, in the sure knowledge that He knows what He is doing.
“Can we do that? Dare to obey Him without question?
“And not want to serve God in an advisory capacity. But as obedient children, trusting His every word and action.”
The priest stopped for a second and sipped his coffee.
“Let Him be God and let us be humans. And let us always be willing to listen to Him when He leads us in a certain direction” continued Father Ignatius.
“I really cannot tell you whether Judas was pre-programmed, as you put it, or not. But I trust God to know the answer to that question and to have dealt with it with compassion, fairness and love.
“Finally, I wish to say this.
“I did not fall out of bed one morning and decide to become a priest. At the time, I felt led by God to follow the path to priesthood. It was a gradual process, it took time and it took a lot of thinking and praying … and eventually, I knew that He was calling me.
“God may well be calling some of you these days. Not necessarily into the priesthood, but to listen to Him and His will for you.
“I pray that you’d be listening when He calls you to do whatever He asks of you in this life.”
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
No doubt many a priest has faced a complicated or perhaps a trick question from time to time from a member of his congregation. Never mind … it’s part of their job I suppose.
Remember that Jesus faced many a curve-ball by His opponents trying to catch Him out.
Father Ignatius is no exception.
He was visiting one of his parishioners in hospital the other day and quite unexpectedly came the curve-ball. It wasn’t meant in a malicious way at all; but more as a cry of help from a tired old body.
“You know Father,” said the patient lying in his hospital bed, “this is the third time this year that I’ve landed in hospital. It’s one check-up after another … and these wretched doctors can’t find what’s wrong with me!
“I sometimes think that God has it in for me.
“Do you think he loves all people the same? Because I can’t see it myself. Here I am in hospital yet again … whilst others are OK and walking out there freely.
“I think He has favorites and He looks after them better than others.
“What do you think Father; does God love every one the same?”
“No.” said Father Ignatius firmly.
The patient laughed.
“Now there’s a surprise … I thought you’d give me a lot of platitudes about us all being equal in the eyes of God; we’re all His children, and He loves us all the same … and yet you agree with me. Bravo Father Ignatius. So God does not love us the same. He has His favorites.”
“I did not say that,” replied the priest sitting by his friend’s bedside.
“Explain yourself then,” said the patient jovially.
“God does love us all,” continued Father Ignatius, “and His love has no favors towards one individual as opposed to the next. He loves us all equally in the sense that He created us all and He loves us even though we might sin and distance ourselves from Him.
“Yet His love is not the same towards everyone.”
“How so …” asked the patient with a glint of humor in his eyes.
“He loves each one of us according to our needs,” said Father Ignatius gently, “like an earthly parent would do.
“You have three children Fred; and I’m sure you love all three of them. You have no favorites.”
Fred nodded silently.
“However,” continued Father Ignatius, “let us imagine two of your children were very bright and would one day follow in your footsteps and manage your business. Whilst the third is perhaps less business minded, not very academic, and interested in doing his own thing … you’d still love him would you not?”
“Yes, of course. You know that Father!” said Fred sitting up in his bed.
“I know you would … but let’s take the analogy a little further. Suppose for instance one of your children had been born with an incurable illness … you would not love him any more, or any less than the other two; would you? You’d love them all the same but differently. If you see what I mean.”
“I think I do …” said the man with a smile.
“God loves all of us according to our needs.
“For example, some people are born very bright, and are well educated whilst others are not.
“I see them in church every Sunday. Some of our parishioners are well versed about religion and their walk with the Lord; whilst others, through a variety of circumstances, perhaps related to their background and up-bringing, are poorer in spirit. Their Faith and knowledge of the Lord is not as advanced as say, a theologian.
“Sure they believe and love the Lord; but their spirituality is simpler compared to others’. Because that’s all they know; that’s all they are able to comprehend.
“They love God, and pray as simply as they’ve been taught; and they try to obey His Word as best they can.
“Does God love them any the less than say an educated priest, a bishop or cardinal who have studied incessantly and are, supposedly, more pious?”
Fred laughed heartily at the mention of more pious clergy.
“I suppose not … He must love them all the same amount,” said Fred.
“Exactly … He loves them the same amount; but differently … each according to their need.
“And one more thing …” continued Father Ignatius, “He expects more from those who are educated and should know better.
“To those who have been given much, more is expected of them.
“So the educated clergy are expected to set a particularly good example to those they are meant to guide to Heaven … so I’d better watch out I suppose.”
Fred smiled as a nurse approached and interrupted the discussion.
“I have the results of your tests, Mr Temple,” she said indicating a private conversation.
“Oh don’t mind him …” chuckled Fred, “he’s a priest. He can always give me the last Sacrament before you dispatch me off!”
“Well sir … you are a little anemic and you need a lot of rest. It’s nothing serious and we’ll have you on your feet and out of here in no time” she said.
“That’s great … thank you” replied Fred as the nurse left.
“You see Fred,” said Father Ignatius, “God does love you differently. He obviously thought you needed to listen to a private sermon.
“One to one personal attention. You can’t have better than that!”
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Father Ignatius was certainly the product of his up-bringing.
Raised in a poor family who had known real hardship; yet at the same time a family held together, despite all the turmoil that life threw at them, by a common bond of mutual love and basic Christian principles.
It’s because of his up-bringing, and because he grew up with very little materially, that he developed a habit of frugality and saving whatever he could rather than wasting it away.
He had taken a private vow of poverty when he became a priest, and since then he spent as little as possible on himself. He was not mean in the sense of avarice since anything he had, or whatever else came his way in terms of money or goods, he eagerly shared with the poor in his parish.
The little he kept for himself was usually either books or certain items he had collected over the years and kept for their sentimental value.
One Friday afternoon he decided to clear up the spare room of personal items he had not used for ages. He decided to donate them to the rummage sale in aid of the elderly.
As he was searching through a box full of books he found an old vinyl record; the old 45 rpm type record, black in color in a torn paper sleeve. He looked at the title of the song and sat down on a nearby chair.
Suddenly, the memories came flooding fast. He held the record in his shaking hand, as tears welled up in his eyes. He hadn’t seen nor played it for years, yet here it was, like a ghost from years long past, awakening distant memories so long forgotten.
He remembered how, as a child, he had saved all his pocket money, and went to the music store after school to buy this particular record as a birthday present for his dear father. Now departed.
The song was quite popular then.
He remembered his father’s reaction when he opened the brown paper bag and pulled out the shiny black vinyl record.
His parental eyes welled up too all those years ago, the same as Father Ignatius’ eyes are welling up right now.
His father placed the record on the table and said nothing. He just held little Ignatius tightly in his strong arms and kissed his head gently. Ignatius was held so tight that he could hear his father’s heart beating in his chest.
He could hear it beating right now, as he sat there holding the record in his shaking hand. And strangely as it may seem, the experience also brought to mind the sweet smell of cooking as they all gathered there as a family in the kitchen that cold winter evening.
His mother moved towards the table, leaving for a moment the food on the stove, and picked up the record.
“How lovely …” she said as she read the title.
She too then hugged little Ignatius as tightly as she could.
The priest remembered that that particular day was the first and only time he had seen his father cry. Silently, he had wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and quietly said: “Thank you … son”.
He was a big strong man, not given to much emotions or small talk. He had probably invented the British stiff upper lip and kept his feelings well hidden within himself. Usually silent at the best of times; mumbling the odd “yes dear …” whenever his wife asked him something. A gentle giant in every respect.
His father had known extreme poverty and hardship throughout his life, having lived through the depression and economic crisis.
Father Ignatius recalled how his father told him that many a time, when he was a child during the depression, he had gone to bed at night with nothing to eat; because there was simply no food in the house. Those were terrible times indeed, as his father often recalled.
He remembered that his father had worked the land from the age of eleven, leaving school with little or no education. It was the done thing in those days, to work hard at an early age to help the family beat off starvation.
And in later years, as young Ignatius was growing up, his father still continued to work hard on the farm to bring enough food to feed his family. His mother too, took on washing to earn a few pennies to supplement the family budget.
Yet despite their impoverished state Ignatius never had to go hungry, as his father did before him; and he was always well dressed and cared for by his parents.
He wondered about all the sacrifices his parents must have made, and how much they had gone without, to ensure that Ignatius lacked nothing as he grew up.
Father Ignatius then brought to mind the day when, as a young man, he built up the courage to tell his parents after the evening meal that he had decided he wished to become a priest.
How he had feared their reaction on hearing the news.
Although they were a good Christian family, he often suspected that his father wanted him to take over the small farm he had built up over the years. How would he react to the news that his son would not follow in his footsteps as a farmer?
“Mom … dad … I’ve been thinking and praying about this for a while. I want to become a priest …” were the opening words to an announcement that he dreaded making.
His father just smiled gently and said: “Son … I am proud of you.”
Father Ignatius could hear those words ringing in his ears, as clear as if they’d just been spoken; and he sobbed gently as he remembered his parents now both in Paradise. No doubt looking down on him, and hopefully still proud of him.
He said a silent prayer as he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.
He then went to his room and put the record on the turntable and one more time let the lyrics come to life.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
It was a lovely Spring evening, quite bright and warm for this time of year, when Steven Milliner, the Youth Club leader, decided to take the children to the park opposite St Vincent Catholic Church for some fresh air and exercise.
Most of the boys had gathered with two Club Leaders at the far end of the park to play football. The rest of the children stayed in the playground area and played on the swings, the slides, round-abouts and seesaws; supervised by a couple of Leaders and Father Ignatius who’d turned up to help.
The priest sat on a bench and kept a watchful eye when he was joined by Tony a young volunteer who helped at the Youth Club every now and then.
“Could I ask you something Father?” he said hesitantly as he sat down.
“Fire away …” replied the priest.
“How is it that you priests can be so strong and steadfast in your Faith. You and Father Donald are so saintly and you preach on Sunday so well … I mean, do you ever have doubts?”
Father Ignatius smiled. “If only you knew …” he thought silently.
After a moment or two Father Ignatius spoke gently.
“Well … Father Donald may well be saintly I suppose … as for me … hmmm … what makes you think I’m saintly?”
“You’re always so calm Father. Nothing seems to rattle you. And your Faith is so strong …”
“Well Tony …” Father Ignatius said after a short pause, “priests are human beings just like everyone else. Just because we wear a white collar, or have been ordained as priests, does not make us Saints. Of course we have doubts every now and then … perhaps not as much or as often as other people, but we are no less immune to the attacks and temptations of the devil.
“A person’s Faith depends on a lot of factors. We all have different levels of Faith … if I can put it this way. Some people have a strong Faith in the Good Lord and can withstand no end of suffering and hardship … others fold at the first stumble …”
“So, if you do have moments of doubts Father, how do you fight it?” asked Tony.
“Prayer … constant prayer,” the priest answered, “one of my favorite prayers is what the man in the Bible said to Jesus. ‘I believe Lord; help my unbelief’. Look it up in Mark 9:24.”
“Yes Father … I remember reading that …” Tony replied.
“Priests are no different to anyone else,” continued Father Ignatius, “some have strong Faith indeed, living Saints as you call them … whilst others do struggle sometime, just like anyone else.
“Anyway … why do you ask? Having any problems?”
Tony hesitated a little before replying.
“Well … sometimes I have doubts …” he said, “… and yet at other times I feel totally certain about my Faith. I believe and totally trust in God, especially when all is going well in my life.
“I suppose the problem is that I don’t trust myself to believe enough. It’s as if I should believe and trust more … yet it does not seem or feel enough. I doubt myself in what I believe. Do you understand what I mean?”
Father Ignatius said nothing for a while as he cleaned his glasses.
“Look at that seesaw over there …” he said finally, “Do you see how one child at one end is up in the air one moment and then down again the next, whilst the other child in turn is up in the air? And then the first child is up again … and down again …
“Life is a bit like that sometimes. You have at one end of the seesaw Worry and Doubt; and at the other end Peace and Certainty.
“Sometimes Worry and Doubt are in the ascendant and together what powerful adversaries they make! We start questioning our Faith. We ask ourselves ‘What if I got it all wrong? What if there is no God at all!’. We worry about our family, our friends, our finances and worldly goods. I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like.”
Tony nodded silently.
“But at other times, especially after prayers or Bible readings, the seesaw tips the other way and Peace and Certainty are up in the air. We remember the many times God was there for us when we needed Him. And the many situations He saved us from and helped us through.
“It’s at these times that we know for certain that He exists alright, despite what others might lead us to believe.”
“That’s a good analogy,” said Tony quietly.
“I suppose we can’t control the up and down movement of the seesaw,” continued Father Ignatius in his calm voice, “that’s what it was designed to do. But with constant prayers we can ensure that Peace and Certainty are there high up for all to see in our lives for as long as possible.”