Friday, 24 September 2010
No … Father Ignatius was a shepherd of human sheep. And that is not meant as a description of his congregation or their collective mental ability.
It was a responsibility which the kindly priest took upon himself from that day the Good Lord tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to take on his vocation. Father Ignatius saw his role in life to guide and lead as many that are put in his care as possible into the Kingdom of Heaven.
And in doing so he had to teach with kindness but with firmness too for it was not up to him to change the Word of God or to re-interpret it in such a way as to make it more palatable to his parishioners.
Father Ignatius knew his sheep by name and he also had the gift, or ability, to associate with each one of them a story or some fact or other about their lives. For example when greeting the parishioners after Mass on Sunday he would say “Hello Guy … how are the children settling in at school …” or “Good morning Mrs Perkins … are you feeling a little better after the operation?” And so on. This made them feel special which of course they were to him … just as a shepherd knows his sheep whether they are young lambs or long in the tooth mutton on legs.
The priest noted one Sunday that a young man looked a little morose and somehow out of sorts and this led him to recall that he hadn’t seen him take Communion for a while. He stopped him on the way out of church and asked him to wait a while to have a word.
When everyone had gone Father Ignatius and Roger went to the Sacristy.
“How are you keeping Roger?” asked the priest, “you don’t look too happy to me … is anything wrong?”
Roger did not need much prompting. Whatever had been eating him had been there for far too long to remain hidden and under control.
“There’s nothing to be happy about …” he replied, “I have lost my job and there’s little prospect of employment … as a result Sue and I have had to postpone our wedding … she hardly earns enough at the bakery … and all our plans to marry in the summer have gone out of kilter as it were …” and then he laughed bitterly and added “I’ve prayed of course Father … but I think God is too busy with someone else to bother about us …”
Father Ignatius said nothing for a moment and then asked, “Would you say a short prayer with me please Roger?”
The young man nodded and the priest started praying as Roger repeated …
“Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done …
“OK … let’s hold it there,” said the priest, “what’s the last thing we said?”
Roger hesitated and then mumbled “Thy will be done …”
“Precisely …” said the priest quietly and gently, “do you know Roger … I’ve often struggled with these four words … and me being a priest too …
“Thy will be done …
“We say these words time and again when we recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Rosary but do we really mean them?
“How far are we to accept our Lord’s will without question and without protest I wonder?
“Would we just accept the odd discomfort and setback if it is God’s will and somehow, without our knowledge or understanding, it serves His purpose? Maybe our problem and the way we deal with it serves as an example to others and brings someone closer to God. Would we accept His will in those circumstances?
“What if it is more than just a slight discomfort? What if His will leads us to pain or hardship? What then … do we accept it like Job did? Do we go on accepting it all the way onto death and torture like St Peter did and the Christian martyrs over the years?
“At what point do we say to God … Hey I said Thy will be done … but this is taking it too far!”
Roger smiled. The priest continued.
“We ought to be very careful when we make that particular promise in the Lord’s Prayer.”
Father Ignatius stopped for a while, as he often does in conversation to punctuate what he had just said, and to let the point sink in. He then smiled at Roger and said.
“The Lord knows what happens to us every moment of our lives Roger … not a hair should fall from our heads without His knowledge … and of course without His will and agreement …
“So when something happens to us … like losing a job … we should remember that He is still in control and somehow it serves His purpose.
“I am not saying it is easy … far from it. Our first human instinct is to rebel, get angry and complain or whine about our situation … It’s human nature to do so … But let’s try some non-human nature for a change … let’s with the aid of the Holy Spirit try superhuman nature to deal with the situation.
“I’m not criticizing you Roger … for I’ve had these difficulties myself you see …
“When the words ‘Thy will be done’ get to mean ‘as long as it is what I want’ then we’re adding a condition which was not there nor meant by Our Lord when He taught us to pray.”
Father Ignatius stopped for a while and then went on.
“It is sometimes difficult to accept or even understand the Lord’s will …
“We wonder why certain things happen to us … we being good and prayerful and attending Mass regularly and so on … why does He let it happen to us …
“The thing is Roger, the Lord knows what is happening to us and He will not let us be tested or be pushed beyond our capabilities …
“I have known people who have undergone great hardship in their lives Roger and they never lost their Faith. They accepted His will without question and were an example to the rest of us.
“Years ago I knew a young lady in this Parish, about your age and newly married. She became very ill with no prospects of getting better.
“I remember praying with her by her bedside in hospital and she said to me, ‘Cheer up Father … I’ll be seeing Jesus before you.’
“She died about an hour afterwards and yes … she did see Jesus before me Roger. She remained faithful to Him despite all that had happened to her.”
A few moments of silence followed as both men reflected on what had just been said.
“Go in peace Roger …” said Father Ignatius, “Trust Him to know better and to lead you where you are meant to be …”