Father Ignatius was a good priest, he cared for his parishioners dearly and often spent time visiting them at home, or in hospital when they were sick, or at the local Catholic schools.
He remembered how once he had visited Mrs Barker at her home and she offered him coffee and gateaux. She called them gateaux because she had spent some time in France in her youth and had worked in a patisserie. So she prided herself at her little creations.
She had served two of her cakes in little plates and having poured the coffee, she realized she’d forgotten to bring out the sugar. She excused herself and went back to the kitchen.
Father Ignatius was holding the cup of coffee in his hand, and before he could do anything, Mrs Barker’s dog came in, picked up the priest’s gateau in its mouth, and ran in the corner to devour it.
When she came back in Mrs Barker said: “Finished your gateau already Father? Shall I get you another one?”
He politely declined and felt embarrassed at his apparent greediness.
As happens on such sad occasions, one’s mind wanders to the past and seeks pleasant stories perhaps to alleviate the pain one feels for having lost a loved one.
Father Ignatius’ thoughts wandered from one parishioner to the next. He brought to mind the Hendersons; a lovely young married couple with a three years old child.
When he visited them recently he was surprised to be asked by Mrs Henderson to take off his shoes.
“We have a young child Father,” said Mrs Henderson, “and it’s more hygienic to keep shoes off the house.”
The priest smiled politely and prayed that he hadn’t a big hole in his socks as he slowly took off his shoes. His prayers were readily answered.
He entered the living room where the child was playing with his father. As he made his way to the armchair near the TV, Father Ignatius accidentally stepped on a Lego brick lying on the floor.
The pain was excruciating !!! So sharp and severe that he felt it again right now as he recalled the event in his mind. He remembered tears welling up in his eyes.
He kept his composure and did not let on to what had happened – but since that painful visit he always considered these toy bricks as instruments of torture dating back to the Spanish Inquisition.
His thoughts were free-wheeling now as he recalled one more occasion when he visited another parishioner, Mrs Granger, to return a book he had borrowed.
It was a windy day as he drove to her house, out in the country. Approaching the front door he noticed that it was open. He rang the bell and waited for a while. No response. He rang the bell again when he heard his name being called from the back of the house.
He made his way to the back garden and did not see her at first. But then he heard her cry: “Up here!
And there she was, half-way up a large oak tree, standing on a thick
horizontal branch clasping another branch tightly with both hands for
fear of falling.
“Could you put up the ladder please Father?” she asked.
He picked up the ladder lying flat beside the tree and held it in position as she slowly and gingerly made her way down to terra firma.
He was too polite to ask what had happened when she said with a smile: “I went up there because the cat was stranded and was too afraid to get down.”
“Where’s the cat now?” asked the priest.
“Oh … it got down and ran away as soon as I got up there. Then the ladder slipped and left me stranded instead!”
His eyes caught Mrs Barker’s photo once again and he said a silent prayer for the repose of her soul. Her voice reverberated in his head; “Finished your gateau already Father? Shall I get you another one?”
He recalled his long departed mother and prayed for her too as he remembered her favourite saying:
“Always make time to laugh Ignatius. And remember what made you laugh. At times of hardship and sadness you’ll draw strength from those fond memories of happy times.”
EXCERPT FROM TAKE CARE OF MY SHEEP