After Sunday Mass Father Ignatius and Father Donald usually wait in the car park to greet the people as they leave church and go home.
Father Ignatius noticed from the corner of his eye an elderly couple standing aloof away from the crowd. Once or twice the man looked at his watch and spoke to the woman. He made an attempt to move on but the woman he was with insisted they remain waiting.
Eventually most of the congregation had left and Father Ignatius was free. As he made his way to Parish House the elderly woman moved fast towards him and said, “Father, do you have a moment please?”
“Yes … hello,” he replied, “how can I help you?”
“This is my husband,” she said, “we wondered if there’s some place we could talk?”
He smiled and led them to the downstairs reception room in Parish House. As the couple settled down on the settee together she was first to speak.
“Father, we are only visiting town. We’ve driven from Scotland and we spent the night at the local hotel in town. We’re on our way to London.” She said.
The priest nodded and said nothing.
“This morning,” she continued, “we decided to come to Mass before moving on. Father, we were very touched by what you said in your sermon about the Commandment to honour one’s father and mother!”
He smiled and said, “thank you!”
“My husband here was all for driving away straight after Mass; but I insisted on speaking with you. He did not want to disturb you.”
The priest noticed the husband was ill-at-ease and reluctant to talk. But his wife went on.
“Father,” she said, “you talked about children having to honour their parents. You see, my husband and I have not always been Christian. We met when we were very young in our twenties and to be honest we believed in nothing. We got married and have two children, a son and daughter. Both grown-up and married.
“About four years ago my husband had a health scare. I prayed and prayed although I did not know who I was praying to. My husband got better.
“As time moved on I started going to a Catholic church up in Scotland where we live. Then I took my husband … forced him more like … to come with me every Sunday!”
Father Ignatius smiled to ease the tension her husband was in.
“Anyway …” she continued oblivious of her husband’s discomfort, “after a year of going to church and sitting at the back, we decided to become Christian. We talked to the priest, Father Ferguson, and we were accepted in the Church three years ago.
“Our daughter was furious. She said we had joined a cult. The Catholic Church is not a religion, she said. They are not Christian. And anyway there is no God. Our son did not care one way or another!”
She stopped and wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. Her husband put his hand on her shoulder for a split second or two.
“I suppose it’s our fault,” said the husband speaking for the first time, “we’ve only been Christian for three years. What chance have the kids got being brought up with no religion?”
The priest felt it was wise to say nothing and let them continue. The wife wiped her eyes once more and said, “Our daughter has disowned us. She has cut off all contact and has stopped us visiting her. We have not seen the grand-children for over two years. She has even stopped us sending them birthday and Christmas presents through the post. She said she’ll throw them away if we do!”
She stopped and sobbed bitterly.
“I’m sorry we have disturbed you …” mumbled the husband.
Father Ignatius got up and said, “I’ll fetch something to drink …” and went to the kitchen for a few moments to give them time to settle down.
After ten minutes or so he returned with a tray of tea and biscuits. The wife had settled down a bit and spoke first.
“As I explained, Father; we have not seen nor spoken to our daughter and her family for two years. She does not reply to my letters. Our son said we could visit him as long as we don’t mention God or religion in his house; otherwise he’ll do the same as our daughter. What can we do Father? Should I remind them of the Commandment to honour their parents?”
“No …” said Father Ignatius gently, “I would not advise that. It would only encourage them, your daughter especially, to dig in their heels and take entrenched positions. As I understand it, the only contact you have is with your son whom you’re allowed to visit every now and then? Does he have children?”
They both nodded.
“Continue to visit,” said the priest, “and invite him and his family to your house for a meal. Barbecues that sort of thing. Act as a family as you did before you became Christians. And most important, abide by his wish never to mention religion!”
“Should we not tell him to turn to God and be saved?” asked the wife.
“Most certainly not,” advised the priest gently, “this would only result in the same treatment as your daughter has done to you. My advice is to act as a family loving and helping each other. Who knows, in time, maybe he would have a family event like a party where he would invite you as well as your daughter and her family. Should this happen, you are to accept; leaving her with the decision whether to attend or not.
“Should she attend, you should behave as a normal family welcoming her and her family. And you do not at any time speak of religion. Honour and abide by her request. That Commandment works both ways you know!
“You honour and respect their wishes and leave the rest to God. He knows what is happening here and is in total control.
“The most important thing for you to do is to keep praying for your children and grand-children.
“Do you know the story of Saint Augustine?” he concluded to change the subject.
They shook their heads and the husband said, “No!”
“What a life he led,” explained Father Ignatius, “In spite of the good warnings of his mother, as a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. His very nature, he says, was flawed. 'It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.' His famously insincere prayer was, ‘Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.’
“However, it is said that his mother prayed all her life for God to help him and eventually Augustine turned to God and became a leading figure in the Church.
“So there is always hope,” he said with a smile, “just continue to pray for your children and grand-children and leave the rest to God. Be an example to your children by the way you live.
“Look at your own situation. After a lifetime of not believing you suddenly decided to turn to God. Pray that your children will also do the same; but not in as drastic a circumstances as yours.”
After a few more moments of chatting they left on their travels much more relieved than when they first started talking to Father Ignatius. They exchanged details and promised to keep in touch.