By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series
Growing up, my father used to remind me to be careful what I said, “because all too often, our words come back to haunt us.” I am sure we have all heard it before and often found it to be true, but then there are occasions when our words come back to save us.
A few days ago a good friend of mine was in town from overseas. In her own country, she is very close with an older woman, who I will call “Jane.” Nearly 50 years ago, Jane worked alongside a priest, who I will call “Joe,” before he left the priesthood and his own country. I have never spoken with Jane, but I imagine her to be a person of great faith, fidelity and love, for she communicated to my friend that she has prayed for Joe all these years, though lost touch with him. However she is close with Joe’s brother, who informed her that Joe is now dying.
When Jane found out that my friend would be visiting the same city where Joe resides, Jane asked her to visit Joe and tell him that he and his many good works had never been forgotten. Jane passed along an envelope containing old pictures and the copy of a homily that Joe had given to Jane, at her request, when he was still a priest. My friend asked if I would come along, for company to be sure, but also so that I might anoint him if he desired.
When we arrived at Joe’s bedside, the nurses warned us that he was not able to speak much and rarely understood his environment anymore. My friend sat beside Joe and introduced herself as a friend of Jane’s and we watched as Joe slowly brought his head around to fix his eyes on the eyes of my friend. Clearly he understood. After lifting his frail body into a more comfortable position, we shared the pictures that were sent with us. My friend then unfolded the old homily — Joe clearly recognized it as his own penmanship — and began to read it to him.
. . . The only complaint Christ ever had on earth was that his friends did not trust him. Men could crucify, scourge, hate and betray him, but he did not complain. But when his own friends doubted his care for them, immediately he asked: ‘Why do you doubt? . . .’ Why? Because the love God wants from us is a love that depends on him. In turn he wants us to show the same care for others. He speaks to us through the Gospels. But he also speaks to us through the people we meet and the events that happen. . . .
As my friend read, I watch Joe’s eyes begin to fill with water. I had never met Joe until this moment. I have no idea why he left the priesthood and what he did before he entered this hospital. However, I could not help but feel that he was hurt by it all and that my friend was the angel God was sending Joe to comfort him before he passed from this world.
After my friend finished reading, I asked Joe if he would like to receive the sacrament of anointing. He nodded yes. As I traced the oil on his head and hands, his eyes once again filled with tears, and I wondered how long it had been since he had received a sacrament.
After we said a few prayers, we left Joe holding the homily he had written some 50 years ago. I don’t know that we will ever get a chance to see him again, but I am quite sure that this man who had clearly done so much for God’s kingdom had been saved, by God’s grace, through his own words. We both smiled as we left the hospital feeling that Jane’s prayers had finally been answered and heard my father’s voice in my head, “Indeed, be careful what you say, for those words may be what you need to see the love of God once again.”
Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and will be teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan beginning in late summer.