Today, the parish I moved into recently, celebrated its feast day! The celebration, which included many accepting their first Holy Communion and Confirmation, was grand, with hundreds of people, many Sisters and Fathers and the Archbishop attending it. However, one important person, who played a major role in preparing for the celebration was missing – our Parish Priest. Yesterday evening, during the Mass we were asked to pray for the soul of our Parish Priest’s mother who passed away early that morning. He left for his hometown hundreds of miles away to attend the final rites. He had mentioned to us about the deteriorating health of his mother earlier, but instead of being by her side he chose to serve the Church, he chose to serve the people. And today, as we enjoyed the fellowship meal, the one who worked tirelessly in arranging the entire event was away, grieving and praying.
This incident reminded me of the sacrifice made by numerous priests and religious for the love of God and people. Father Damien was one such priest. He volunteered to go to the island of Molokai, Hawaii where hundreds of lepers where exiled to prevent the spread of the disease which was then thought to be highly contagious. They were left there to suffer and die by themselves. But Father Damien reached out to them, helped them, nursed them, served them, worked with them, prayed for them. He later contracted leprosy himself, but he continued to work for them and their welfare till his death. I was also reminded about a French movie I saw a couple of months ago – “Of Gods and of Men”. It depicted the lives of seven monks who lived in Algeria, and in spite of the looming danger of death by militants, they continued to help and be a support to the people around them. They were kidnapped and after two months, found dead. These are just a few among hundreds and thousands of priests and religious across the world, spread over centuries who left everything they had to be dedicated to God and people. Many of their stories may not be as well-known as these, but the sacrifice of each one of them is as precious and valued.
As I write this, I’m aware of the various allegations and court trails going on right now. I’m not oblivious of the fact that many have been found wanting. I myself, have across some not so good experiences. And that’s when I realize that the person behind the cassock is as human as I am, has the same weaknesses that I have, goes through the same feelings and emotions, but has made a sacrifice that I can never imagine. He has left his family, friends, home, money, possessions, everything to be a wanderer, to move from one place to another not knowing where he will go next, to be with people who are most of the times ignorant, irresponsive, thankless, inconsiderate; working tirelessly for something that is not going to help him in any way ever. I can never imagine doing that. And for that, I respect them.
The names and faces keep changing, but there has been numerous occasions when a priest has touched my life. He was there when I first entered into a church and I know he’ll be there when I will be carried out for the last time. He came to my home every year to bless it and also when we wanted his help to tide over our family issues. He was the one who helped me realize how much God loves me; he was there to listen to my darkest confession when his hands became wet with the tears that rolled down my cheeks; he raised his hands to absolve me, he laid his hands on my head to bless me; he gave me a place to stay when I had none; he was there to pray for me, to guide me, to challenge me to follow God; he was there to offer Mass for me every morning, to make me be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ each and every day. It was through him that I saw God, heard God’s words, experienced God’s love and still do
When many of us can’t live without our family and friends, when many of us can’t live a life of uncertainty, when many of us are busy planning our own ambitious life ahead, when many of us can’t imagine to live a life of obedience, poverty and chastity, when many of us didn’t hear, want to hear or answer God’s call, they said “Yes”!!!! That's courage! Something that I and many of us reading can never do. Lets respect all the priests, nuns, Brothers and religious and pray for them.
Jesus said, “For those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my name’s sake, they will receive a hundredfold and be given eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)