Posted February 03, 2010:
A Story About a Priest

by Catherine Doherty.

Dear Fathers, you do not realize how much joy your very presence brings. How much hope it brings, too. I have a story to tell.

Back in the 1930s, when I was in Toronto, I had a spiritual director, Father Keating, a Jesuit.

He was then provincial of the Jesuits in Toronto and lived not far from us, maybe four or five blocks away, on Portland Street, where we had our Friendship House—right by the railroad yards. So I went to the place quite often, both for spiritual direction and just to chat a little.

One day I heard that Father was kind of run down and that the doctor ordered him to take a walk every day for at least an hour and more if possible. The doctor was adamant that he should walk, even in all kinds of weather—except for downpours or blizzards. The doctor told him how far he should walk.

Well, I went to commiserate with Father and to cheer him up, but I also had another idea. I said to him, "Father Keating, since you have to walk three miles a day, why not walk in the slums, right where you are?"

He said, "Why should I walk around this place? I should go to the park or some place away from here."

But I replied, "You know, because I have told you many times, both in confession and out, how I worry about Cameron Street. It is filled with Communists. Why not walk on Cameron Street? They may throw stones at you, but I am sure they would be very little stones. They won’t harm you.

"And you will bring hope to people in the neighborhood, because a priest brings hope. Just your walking down these streets, where ninety-four percent of the people belong to the Communist party, will somehow or other bring hope."

He looked at me. Being my spiritual director, he knew me very well. He said, "Catherine, you certainly have the Russian ability to dream."

Anyhow, he said, "Okay, I’ll walk, but I don’t quite believe that I am a sign of hope."

I said, "The Lord will show you. You forget who you are. Jesuits, Franciscans, secular priests or Carmelites, you forget who you are or perhaps you don’t even realize who you are. This is going to show you that you are a sign of hope." I knelt for his blessing and disappeared.

Thereafter, every day between four and six o’clock, I saw Father walking the slum streets, especially Cameron Street, and, as I predicted, little stones, not big ones, hit his coat but never his face.

A few words about being a hypocrite and that sort of thing were hurled out of the windows at him, but he was six-foot-one and very strong looking, besides being handsome. He was about fifty or so. He had presence.

The seasons rolled on. Fall came and went, and then the snowflakes fell. One day a woman ran out from a little house, looked around to see if anybody was watching, then whispered to Father, "Pray for my son. He is very sick." Then she scuttled back again.

When Father dropped in at Friendship House, he said, "Maybe you are right. Maybe I am a sign of hope." Well, thereafter the woman came out to him again and again. One day he very quietly put a blessed medal in her hand, a medal of Our Lady of La Salette. Then she ran back again.

About a week later, she returned, standing straight, not running, not afraid of anybody. She took Father’s hand and kissed it according to the beautiful Slavic custom, and said, "My son is well, thanks to your prayers."

Fathers, I am almost afraid to ask this, but I must: Do you have that kind of faith? Have you looked at yourself and understood who you really are? Oh, you might be Tom, Dick or Harry. You might be fat, thin, old or young.

You can look in a mirror until the mirror falls down, but you will not see in a mirror who you really are. It’s when your eyes are turned to the heart of Christ, who is your real mirror, that you will see that you are another Christ, with all his powers, amongst them the power of giving hope, joy, faith and love.

Yes, believe it or not, when you are around, you are a sign of hope. You may neither feel that you are nor know that you are, but you are.

Be careful not to let this gift slip through your fingers, for in the soul of a human being hope is a fragile thing, and the laity has been led to so many dead ends with slogans like, "God is here. God is there. Come here. Go there," when they have been lies.

People will approach you sometimes as if you also were a liar and a hypocrite. At times anger will spill upon you because someone has betrayed the most precious thing: God in a human soul.

So remember: you are a sign of hope. You are a sign of joy.

You live on the street of broken dreams but you lead people to God who alone can repair them. With his power you can, too. God and you are good repairmen. Perhaps in our century you could call it a recycling of hearts. Be that as it may, you are a sign of hope.

Excerpted from Dear Father, pp. 38-41, (1988), available from MH Publications.


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