The day’s events began at 5:00am with a hospital visit, and much like the turbulent funnel of a tornado, Fr. Joe Hessing found himself rushing from one activity to another until he nearly collapsed on the kitchen table before a meager microwave dinner. It was a hectic end to a hectic week and it was beginning to take its toll on this servant of God. Just when he thought the day was coming to a close he heard a knock at the rectory door. “Who could possibly be knocking a 10:30?” he asked himself as he stared anxiously at his untouched meal.
Again, the knock came and beckoned him to leave his Salisbury steak and corn and welcome his new visitor. At the door he found a young man named Mark who frequently helped him in visiting the sick and homebound of the parish.
Come on in Mark, Have you eaten yet?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you Father, and I am really sorry to bother you now but I just came back from visiting Lisa and her father Sam Watson, and it seems like he doesn’t have much time left to live. Father, you must rush over there and hear his confession before it’s too late.” Knowing how quickly Mark could overreact at times and how everything seemed to him to be an emergency, Fr. Joe showed him towards the kitchen. After pouring two glasses of water Father sat down at the table and began his interrogation.
“Is Mr. Watson really in grave condition?” he asked.
“Yes Father. I fear that he is dying.” Mark responded in haste.
Knowing that Lisa’s father had been “almost dying” for several months now, he asked Mark if he thought Sam will last through the night. The young man seemed anxious and said that he doubted if the man will see the next sunrise. Impressed by the zeal of his young friend Fr. Joe gave one last look at his untouched plate before saying, “Alright, lets go. I’ll bring the car around.”
The drive was short to Lisa’s house and when they arrived, they found her father lying up in bed watching TV. Though he had turned 84 the month before, Mr. Samuel Watson was always blessed with appearing 10 years younger than he really was. “This doesn’t look too much like a man in his last moments.” Father thought as he entered the room and pulled up a chair. Sam gave the priest a nervous greeting for it had been a long time since he had seen the inside of any Church. Mark and Lisa slowly left the room while Fr. Joe and Mr. Watson shared a rather light conversation about the weather, sports and Sam’s health. He seemed more relaxed now in the presence of the priest and was therefore not shocked when father asked him when the last time he had been to confession was. “Father, I am not really sure but it must have been about 35 years ago.” Sam said with a hint of shame in his voice.
“Well, Mr. Watson” Father said, “It’s just you and me in the room. If you like I can hear your confession right now.”
After a few moments of thought, Lisa’s father agreed and began to confess his sins. At the moment of absolution, Fr. Hessing raised his hand to make the sign of the cross and noticed that tears were streaming down Sam’s face. “I brought Holy Oil with me if you would like to receive the anointing of the sick.” Father proposed. And Sam quickly agreed. Before departing, Fr. Joe told Sam that he would come back tomorrow morning and bring the Eucharist so that he may receive Communion. Mr. Watson was very grateful and kissed the hands of the priest before he left.
It was 12.30 when Fr Joe got back to the rectory and knowing that he had to be back at the hospital in five hours, he went right to bed and forgot about his dinner that still lay on the kitchen table. After 6:00 Mass the following day father stopped by to check on Sam and bring him Holy Communion. Much to his surprise he was greeted at the door by Lisa who had obviously been crying a lot. “Lisa, what happened?” he asked, yet he already knew the answer. “Father, thank goodness you came last night. My father has passed away.” She said, amidst sobs. Fr. Joe consoled her as best he could and asked her when he had died. “About five minutes after you left.” she said. “I am still so thankful that you came last night. My dad died in peace and with a smile on his face, and I know that it was because of you.”
Fr. Joe Hessing would never forget those words. Not because he had done anything special or earned any merit, but because he knew that it was God who brought him to Sam’s bedside moments before he would pass away. He realized then that it was not important that he got enough sleep or enough to eat. What was really important was that he was available when people needed him most. That night he spent extra time in the church praying to God and thanking Him for using himself as an instrument to bring souls to heaven.
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