It was early October when Fr. Joseph Rose arrived to his new assignment at St. Aloysius Church. He had just been ordained a priest the week prior to his assignment and was eager to begin his pastoral work. Like a small child who sees all that is conventional with eyes of wonder, Fr. Rose lived each moment of his new priesthood with intensity and awe.
Pulling up to the rectory driveway he noticed that there were no cars parked there, nor by the curb. “I hope some one is in,” he thought as he turned off the car and stepped out. The newly fallen leaves crunched beneath his feet as he traversed the front lawn. Arriving at the doorway he rang the bell and began to contemplate the matt below. “Welcome Home” it said in fuzzy white carpet letters. “I guess that’s true, welcome home Fr. Joseph” he said out loud, still waiting for an answer.
I suppose I’ll have to come back later.” He said as he turned back towards the drive way. He got about half way across the yard when he looked up and saw the Church of St. Aloysius on the other side of the street. He had seen it while pulling into the driveway, but now he was captivated by the beauty of the old stone edifice with its rising steeple and ornate windows. The wind picked up, making the leaves dance to a distant song while the sun pierced the clouds and shone brightly on the façade of this, his new Church. “The beauty of a Church reveals the splendor of a people’s faith” he thought while standing silent amidst a field of fallen leaves.
Getting into the car he decided to drive around and perhaps find a place to eat. Anything to kill time before returning to the rectory in hope that someone would arrive. He drove down Main street and took a left onto Adelaide lane. Not knowing where to go, he rode around as if the car itself was taking him for an afternoon stroll. He finally found Nate’s Diner on the other end of town and figured it would be a good place to stop for a bite.
As he walked into the diner, he noticed that everyone was staring at him. The old man on the stool, the young couple at the corner booth, and the woman behind the cashiere remained bug eyed and motionless while he walked in. Even the cook stepped away from his skillet to see the newcomer. Fr. Joseph was used to this, for it’s not everyday that people see a young priest walking around, much less in a diner. Getting over the initial shock the teenage waitress welcomed him and showed him to a table. He sat down and began to scan the menu while golden oldies played lightly in the background.
That is when it happened. There was no voice and yet he heard something. It was clear and precise, as if Chubby Checkers had just stopped in mid-song to make an announcement. Fr. Joseph looked around to see if anyone else had heard anything, but all he saw were the young couple sharing a milkshake, the old man contemplating his cup of black coffee, and the cook at work over a steaming skillet. The voice, or call of his own conscience, told him, “You need to leave, find a Church and pray.” Those were all the instructions it gave, but that was enough. He got up from the table and headed for the door while giving a poor excuse to the waitress about how he had to run to the car for a moment. Once in his car, he pulled onto the main road without even knowing where he was going. All he knew was that he had to find a Church.
He headed south, away from the diner and further out of town. Logic would have told him to return to St. Aloysius or at least back to where he came from. Instead he drove on, leaving the suburbs and approaching the rolling farmland that bordered the town. He continued along the same road until the next intersection. There he heard his “voice” again beckoning him to turn right. He did so, and continued on at a slow pace while unsure of his final destination. At half a mile past the intersection he saw a bike helmet in the middle of the road. Then a few feet farther a bike was tossed on the ground with the front wheel bent in half. Still farther he saw the body of a young man who had obviously fallen off and been dragged across the cement road for several feet.
Fr. Joseph quickly pulled over and got out of his car. He ran towards the body that was laying face down and motionless, hoping that he had arrived in time. He fell to his knees and turned the young man over. His face was covered in blood and disfigured by the initial fall. He almost seemed inhuman and yet he was still breathing. “I am a priest, can you hear me?” father shouted out in hope that the boy was still conscious. He looked into his eyes and saw that he was conscious yet could not speak. Blood continued to flow at a fast pace and Fr. Joseph realized that he might not have a long time to live. He said to him, “If you are Catholic and you wish I can hear your confession. Just squeeze my hand if you want me to.” He picked his hand up from the ground and waited for a response. In that moment the young man squeezed his left hand.
“If you are sorry for all your sins, squeeze my hand again and I will give you absolution.” Again the child squeezed his hand and this time did not loosen his grip.
“By the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” With that father reached for his cell phone to call for help. But the moment he pulled it out, the boy’s hand went limp in his palm. He looked down to see that the young man in his arms had died. It was too late to call for help, but luckily father arrived in time to prepare him for what comes next. Now he knew why he had to leave the diner, he knew what led him away from town, and what told him to make a turn at the last intersection. That was the first confession Fr. Joseph Rose ever heard, and it was one that he would never forget.
Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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