Wednesday, 27 February 2013
How may I help you?
Father Ignatius was busily dealing with some paperwork in his office one afternoon when he was interrupted by the telephone ringing.
This in itself was not very unusual. Being an approachable person he was often contacted by his parishioners seeking advice about, or solace from, their troubles and worries.
Many a time his meals were interrupted by phone calls from someone or other in trouble; or his evenings watching his favorite football team on TV, or listening to classical music, were cut short by someone at the door in tears.
And as always, he would stop what he was doing and attend to the problem brought to his doorstep, or his telephone receiver.
So, this particular phone call in itself was not unusual; but what it was about certainly was.
Father Ignatius stopped reading the important letter from the Bishop and answered the call.
“Hello, St Vincent Church here. How may I help you?”
“Father Ignatius … is that you on the phone?” said the voice at the other end.
“It certainly is … who am I speaking to?”
“It’s me Father …” replied the panicked voice.
“I see … who is calling?” said the priest gently.
“It’s Eric … I attend church on Sunday!”
Father Ignatius knew Eric well. A nice young man, about 19 years old, from a good family, and not known to have been in any kind of problem or trouble before. So it was somewhat unusual to get a phone call from him.
“Hello Eric … how can I help you?” asked Father Ignatius.
“Father …” hesitated the voice at the other end, “is it OK to have confession on the phone?”
“It’s a bit unusual …” mumbled the priest quietly; thinking what could have led to this frantic phone call and such unusual request, “could it wait until Saturday?”
“No Father … it's urgent ... I am in London … with some friends …”
“I don’t understand …” continued Father Ignatius, trying to be helpful to this soul in torment, “have you done something terribly wrong Eric?”
“Yes Father … I have sinned terribly … and I need to confess … please forgive me …” said Eric obviously distressed.
“Alright Eric … calm down. Take a deep breath … now tell me. What is the matter? What have you done?”
At this point Father Ignatius said a silent prayer for the young man and asked God to help him say the right thing; and to come to Eric’s aid.
It was a habit the priest had developed every time someone sought his help or advice. Father Ignatius had learnt that a quick silent prayer for the one in need is often worth more than what he had to say on the matter.
He was really concerned for this young man on a day out in the Capital with friends. What could possibly have happened to warrant such a frantic phone call? What kind of trouble could he be in?
After a second or two’s silence Eric spoke calmly.
“I’m in London with some friends from college … and we’ve just been to a strip club … I know it’s a sin … please forgive me!”
Father Ignatius did not know whether to laugh or to cry. He had imagined the worst; and hearing Eric’s so-called confession came more as a relief than a surprise.
“OK … I understand Eric … we’ll talk about it on Saturday … consider yourself forgiven,” said a relieved Father Ignatius in the same gentle tone of voice, ensuring that it did not betray his true feelings.
“Oh thank you so much Father … one more thing please …” pleaded the young man.
“Yes Eric …” continued Father Ignatius with the patience of a Saint.
“We’re going to see an adult film this evening … can you forgive me for that too?”
Before the priest could answer, Eric continued down the phone.
“Can’t speak now Father … my friends are coming … I don’t want them to know I’ve been speaking with you. I’ll confess on Saturday … Bye!”
And the line went dead.
Father Ignatius pondered on the difficulties young people face these days to uphold their Christian principles. Here is a young man, out on the town with his friends; in a strange place he’d never visited before. They decide to do something which he knows to be sinful yet, somehow, he is led by them for fear of speaking out and standing his ground.
The priest sympathized with the young man’s dilemma. It takes a strong character indeed not to be led by one’s peers under these circumstances. And Eric was no such individual.
He was of course gentle with him at Confession on Saturday.
In the meantime, that phone call reminded Father Ignatius of a similar event which happened some months previously.
One of his parishioners, Mrs Simms, had told him that she had been invited to a wedding which was to take place on a Friday. She had seen the Menu for the Reception. Would it be OK, she asked, if she ate meat on that day? Would he absolve her in advance?
When the priest concurred with her, she asked with a smile: “Is it OK for my husband to eat meat too? Only he asked me to ask you on his behalf!”
Father Ignatius smiled as that thought crossed his mind and returned to reading the Bishop’s letter.
From the ridiculous to the sublime.