Raymond was disabled and forever in a wheelchair. These were the plain facts for all to see. But behind these facts hid a story which challenged Father Ignatius at St Vincent Church.
Raymond was a policeman who was shot whilst on duty and condemned to a lifetime in a wheelchair. Sure, he got compensation and a pension, but this was in no way reparation for what he went through as his young life was suddenly changed overnight.
About a year after the shooting Raymond’s marriage broke down as his wife left him and moved to another town to live with her new lover. Ironically, he was a policeman too. A friend of Raymond. She took with her their two young children.
So, in that moment when Raymond was shot he effectively lost his mobility, his wife and children, his marriage, his job and his best friend.
He often wished he’d lost his life instead. He was on permanent pain-killers and took to drinking to ease the mental and physical agony which tortured his every hour.
Understandably, he stopped going to church, but that did not keep him out of Father Ignatius’ mind and reach. The kindly priest visited Raymond at home every now and then to offer whatever practical help he could.
He arranged for a housekeeper to visit to do the cleaning, cooking and shopping as needed, and a buildings contractor to make the necessary alterations to the house to accommodate a wheelchair user.
As time went by, Father Ignatius continued to visit Raymond for friendly chats and to see he was settling down as best as he could to his new circumstances. Once or twice the priest encouraged Raymond back to church, offering to arrange transport when needed. But this was politely and resolutely refused.
Raymond, it seems, blamed God for what had happened to him.
“I really appreciate your help and sympathy Father,” he said, “and I accept them, reluctantly, from you as a friend … not a priest.
“I don’t need your or anyone else’s sympathy … I don’t want people to look at me in this contraption and feel pity for me …
“I was offered a job as a civilian in the police force, as well as my full pension … but I turned them down. I did not want to be a statistic to help them prove that they have an Equal Opportunities Policy and that they employ all people regardless of disability, race, gender orientation or whatever.
“I am not a statistic Father. I am me … Raymond the cripple!
“Does God understand that? I have always been a good person, a devout Catholic attending church and helping whenever possible … I was on the Parish Council well before you came at St Vincent, Father.
“And how does God reward me? By putting me in this chair and turning my life upside down …”
Father Ignatius knew that the time was not right to get into theological discussion with Raymond. It was obvious that the man was still hurting both literally and mentally and the priest realized that when a man is starving you feed him first before giving him a Bible!
“I see you have a fine collection of empty drinks bottles here …” said the priest changing the subject.
“They help ease the pain.” Raymond replied, “that, and the medicines I take.”
“It’s not wise to mix drink and medicine,” continued Father Ignatius.
“And what will it do Father? Kill me? At least then I’d be out of this chair.”
Father Ignatius chose not to respond. He sat down and picked up a bottle and started reading the label.
“You can’t imagine how empty I feel inside, Father,” Raymond said after a while, “I’m thirty-five with no future, no family and no hope … stuck to this wheelchair whilst the man who put me here will soon be free.
“When I say I’m empty … perhaps it’s wrong … I’m full of resentment, and hate and bitterness at the unfairness and injustice of it all …”
“And full of drink too,” mumbled the priest.
“Trust you to see the funny side … even in this situation,” said Raymond. “I’m surprised you didn’t put your professional hat on and tell me how much God loves me, and how much He cares for me … perhaps He was too busy doing something else the day I got shot!”
“No … I wouldn’t preach to you about God …” Father Ignatius replied, “it’s not my job right now …”
“If God wants to speak to you … He’ll do so Himself in His own time …” the priest went on, “No … I’m here for more selfish reasons … I need your help.”
“How so?” asked Raymond.
“I’d like you to come and have a chat with the older pupils at school about life in general,” Father Ignatius replied.
“They’re at that age where they are striking out for independence … some of them have started smoking cigarettes … a few of the boys carry knives … just for show, you understand.
“I doubt they’d listen to an old fogy like me. Especially one wearing a white Catholic collar round his neck.
“You, on the other hand, seem ideal … you’ve been a policeman.”
Father Ignatius stopped for a while pretending to think about the proposal he’d just made.
“No … it wouldn’t work … I doubt they’d listen to you either … the police is hardly more popular than a priest … forget I mentioned it.”
“What would you want me to talk about?” Raymond interrupted.
“I don’t know … I was just thinking aloud … I just thought … stupid of me really … I thought that if we could save at least one child from getting into trouble with the police, or from getting injured or killed in a gang fight … then perhaps it would be worth it you speaking to them … but it wouldn’t work.”
The priest dropped the subject and left Raymond.
Over the weeks that followed the policeman thought about Father Ignatius’ suggestion and eventually contacted the priest offering to do one talk at the school.
It went well. Not an overwhelming success, but just well enough to get Raymond out of his self-imposed shell for a short while.
And that’s when God intervened.
One of the youngsters got in trouble with the police for fighting using a knife. The priest managed to keep him out of Court and suggested to the Authorities that the youth be obliged to attend “probational sessions” with the ex-policeman instead.
The experiment worked well in as much that the young boy’s behaviour improved. The police hired Raymond on a part-time basis to help with other delinquent youths.
In time, Raymond eased off the drink … to set a good example to the youths.
The physical pain and the memories are still there … they’ll never go away. But they are eased every now and then as the ex-policeman succeeds in slowly accepting his situation.
“At least he’s started to attend church once again …” thought Father Ignatius.