by Catherine Doherty.
This letter to priests was written long before the sexual abuse scandals of recent years. Had she written it today, Catherine might have done so differently, but she would not have changed her essential message. Her approach was to proclaim the eternal truths underlying changing situations, whatever they might be.
Do you realize that you are a joy to the world? At Christmas we sing, "Joy to the World" and other carols expressing our gladness in the coming of Christ, and we feel a burst of joy when he comes. Did it ever occur to you that the same sentiments and feelings come to our hearts when you visit our homes?
In the old days, of course, people prepared for your coming by polishing and cleaning everything. That may have lessened a bit, but today, like yesterday, the joy is still there.
To have a priest come and visit us—well, that’s quite something!
For those of us who have faith and who understand a little, it is the coming of Christ. We hear the knock or the doorbell, and someone says, "Father is coming," and we rush to the door.
This may seem a little old fashioned to you, especially to young priests. But even if you don’t see these things happening to you, don’t kid yourself. They do happen in the hearts of the young and the old.
You are a bringer of joy. When you come to visit the sick there is some kind of uplift and hope springs forth. Not necessarily that the sick will not die, no. But some strange, unaccountable joy takes hold of people. I have seen it over and over again.
Working in a hospital, I have seen the faces of patients light up. Into their eyes came an expectancy not seen before, not even when their husbands or wives, fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters came.
It was an expectancy that seemed to exclaim, "Oh, Father is here. I can put my soul into his hands, and I can lay my head (figuratively speaking) on his shoulder."
If only you had time to see in our faces the joy that your coming creates, you would find yourself praising the Lord with all your soul.
Do you ever think about that?
I once had a patient who was very sick. She was always glad when a priest came for a few minutes to say hello to her, to hold her hand, to cheer her up.
But one day this priest met me at the door of the ward and said, "I’m afraid to walk up to the door of Mrs. So–and–So because I have to give her the news that her husband died. He fell from the fifteenth floor; he was a construction worker."
I said, "Father, you must not be afraid because you bring to her the will of God, and it will be her sanctification and yours."
He looked at me a little strangely but went and told her, and I stayed nearby. She screamed and fainted. We revived her. Then she cried.
At the end she said, "Well, perhaps Peter is better off, for he is now with God. The Lord said so. He had a good life, Peter. He loved the Lord, so he is all right now. It is myself that I should weep for, not him."
The priest was simultaneously the bearer of natural bad news and supernatural Good News. That is one of your joys.
But you have so many joys, dear Fathers.
You know, because you have looked into the eyes of the children to whom you teach catechism. Isn’t it beautiful to look at the limpid eyes of very young children who have not yet been touched by the evil one?
You must have a voice singing inside of you when you look at those children, for reflected in their black eyes, blue eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, is Jesus Christ.
What immense joy is yours! And what joy you give them!
Did you ever notice, (unless some strict adult is present) how they run up to you and say, "Father! Father! Father!" Just those voices, and the name they call you, must lift your soul up high and allow it to sing as David sang before the altar.
We need joy. In the darkness of our age, in the jungle in which we live, we need the candle of your joy, the candle that stands in the candlestick of faith, love, poverty, chastity and all that a priest is or should be.
As usual, 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.
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 (2001), pp. 61-67, available from MH Publications
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