I thought he was arrogant.
“He’s discerning a vocation,” our friend announced, and we prayed for him that evening, promising to continue.
But that night I turned on my side when God brought him to my mind.
“I don’t want to pray for that arrogant man,” I snapped, spitefully.
But pray for him I did. We all did, until time and the vagaries of memory slipped him from our awareness.
“He’s in seminary,” our friend told us in her annual Christmas Letter after the needs of the US Military had dispersed our fellowship.
“You remember that friend we brought to the Rosary back in California?” she said when the ‘luck-of-the-orders’ brought our families back together a decade later near Washington, DC, “he’s a priest now!”
One day, in the hall of our parish in Virginia, we saw him again.
He was making the rounds. Shaking hands. “A Military Priest,” came the whispers before him, “he’s going to help with weekend masses.”
“We know you – ” my husband said, shaking his hand and looking into his face, trying to match it with a when/where/why/with whom. “You look so familiar.”
Father stopped and squinted in thought. Suddenly, I knew.
“California,” I said, naming the duty station and the friends who had introduced us.
We laughed and shook hands over the outrageous irony of meeting him in his pre-seminary days and now reconnecting a continent away, him an ordained priest helping at our parish.
That night we went home and found the entry in our guest book. There was his signature, the date fourteen years ago, and a “Mr.” in front of his name.
But today we had called him “Father.” In my mind, I reviewed his progress through the parish hall, one hundred people waiting to meet him. He needed every ounce of self-assurance, every last bit of verbosity to meet an entire crowd, and this was only ONE of the places he was needed today.
Like God had known what this ‘priest-forever’ would need, and had embedded it in his character to be shaped and whittled and honed until it was time.
I had nearly missed my chance to be a part of a great work God was going to do through this man.
A year later, he announced his appointment as Chaplain to the military personnel assigned to the White House. He also announced his diagnosis: cancer.
In surgery, opened like a book from collarbone to pelvis, doctors removed more than 100 tumors and flushed his body with chemical disinfectants like a trout cleaned in the river before dinner.
No one said much. No one I know has ever survived 100 tumors. It’s not like any surgery can remove every last cancer cell. Even the best doctor can’t stop it from metastasizing.
Except for the Divine Physician.
And stop it he did.
I saw him at Mass tonight. He is back to his fearless proclamation of truth in strong and musical voice to the four hundred people there (and this is just ONE of the places he went today). Then he fed us with the Bread of Life, and among the others, I received Christ from his hands.
The hands, God tactfully reminded me, belonging to the man I had once refused to pray for because in
MY arrogance, I disapproved of the Lord’s character refinement plan.
Wretched, foolish, pride.