In eight days will be my 25th anniversary of ordination and I found myself in prayer today allowing everyone who might come into the eyes of my mind and heart, to pass by, as it were, to be thanked – even my enemies whose lies have caused so much harm – and blest.
One, about whom I have not been aware of for some years admittedly, came to mind and caused me to smile over the expanse of forty years.
At the time I was an atheist and Marxist working in a street clinic.
In those days such places were rare, indeed in that particular city we were the first and provided medical, counselling, legal services for free.
It was, of course, located in the inner city with all the concomitant grub and crime, poverty and anger.
Those who came were of various ages, gender, people of various races, religions and none, of varying degrees of mental health, and none, and of course there was a kaleidoscope of addictions, wounds, while overarching all the immense and intense poverty of loneliness.
The lower, poorer, less bright echelons of the underworld came too because at the clinic all sorts of wounds could be treated without fear of police involvement – not because we would ever cover-up criminal activity but because the inner city police knew we could tell the difference between wounds from a dispute between gang members and wounds of the innocent.
In the days before women’s shelters and a better understanding of all forms of domestic violence we dealt with a lot of people, mostly women and children, on occasion a battered and totally humiliated man, the immense agony of the vulnerable was a constant reality.
One day a rather large man, looking like every film version of a bike gang member, which in truth he was, came and asked if he could bring in his ‘old lady’ and what the charge would be.
Informed no charge late that night he arrived with a very ill woman, whom we treated to stabilize her and after some convincing directed him to a hospital where she could get the full care she needed.
This time he did not ask about cost as he knew it was serious and we also knew whatever their relationship he, in his own way, loved her.
Over the following months he returned from time to time with various minor wounds, scrapes, non-specific ‘pain’.
It was obvious he came mainly to talk and I happened to be the one he latched onto, as did ‘my woman the old lady’.
She was almost as big and tough as he was, tough on the outside though, for she had a maternal heart and eventually revealed how she yearned to be a mother.
Finally one day they told me he was going to stop his gang activity and they were going to disappear, go where they could not be found, begin life anew, have a family.
Around three in the morning the next night, when supposedly they were already gone, in he came and bellowing “Here!” , he tossed what seemed a black cloth at me.
Glancing down at the object I realized it was a rabat, a roman collar with silk black front.
I looked up at him and he said, rather definitively: “I know you are a priest. Why you are hiding out here I don’t wanna know or care about! Just go back. Be a good priest. Me and the woman ’ll pray for you.”
With that he was gone, ignoring my shouted: “I’m no ****priest you****idiot!”
It would be eleven years later, after obviously a conversion and finally listening to the persistent knock on the door of my heart by Jesus, through such events as this, that I would enter the seminary.
To anyone struggling to believe, in particular any man wondering about vocation: LISTEN!