Chattering excitedly, six of us moms crammed into a mini-van, ready to begin our day away. We were going to a regional women’s retreat, and were relishing the prospect of spending the whole day together in each other’s company. Although I was good friends with one of the other women, I knew the other four only casually. And so, I did what I always do in situations like this — I start asking questions.
The truth is, I’m by nature an introvert. I hate being turned loose in a crowd of people I don’t know — it exhausts me to try to be funny, or interesting, or articulate. So I usually take the advice of an author friend, a grandfatherly old gentleman, who once told me, “Heidi, if you keep the focus of the conversation on the other person, people will always consider you a brilliant conversationalist!” Good advice, that.
I had recently tried to invite our new pastor over for dinner, and was startled when he declined my invitation. “I have three thousand people in this parish,” he told me. “If I accept an invitation from one family, I automatically get in trouble with a dozen others … Please don’t be offended. I just value my private time.”
Truth be told, my nose was the tiniest bit out of joint. And a tiny part of me wanted to verify that Father had not simply singled us out. “Have any of you ever had Father to your house for dinner?”
As if on cue, they all laughed. Every single one of them. “Father doesn’t do dinner,” said the woman next to me. But when my first husband left me for my best friend, he came to see me every week for three months. I’ll never forget it.” I was shocked at this — I’d never heard her story. It was clear no one else had, either.
“He’s not much of a socializer,” agreed the next one. “But when my son was discerning the priesthood — and later, when he started seminary, and decided not to continue — Father really took him under his wing. He didn’t push — just encouraged. I’m so grateful.”
“When my father was dying in the hospital, Father broke speeding records to get there to administer last rites. And I’ll never forget the eulogy . . . He had spent so much time talking with us about our memories of Dad, it was as if he’d known Dad all his life.”
“He has a temper,” said one more. “Especially when politics enters the picture. I remember an incident with the Knights of Columbus years ago — some power play, one accused of mishandling funds. Father really raised the roof. But when the accused man dropped dead of a heart attack a week later, Father protected his family and treated them with utmost courtesy. One of their children had fallen away from the Church — but after that, he started coming back.”
This was a side of Father I’d never experienced, and I was grateful for having an opportunity to hear of it. That night, I sat down and wrote the priest a letter, telling him what I had heard, and mailed it.
A week later, I got a response. “You will never know what your letter meant to me. It arrived on the 40th anniversary of my priesthood, and I had been asking God what I had accomplished in all those years. I’ve tucked your letter in my Bible, as a reminder for the next time I feel this way. Gratefully …”
Today’s Love in Action: Do you have a priest in your life, whose manner you find hard to love? How can you encourage him?