Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
Everyone has their own story to tell
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
When you're a priest in a large church, you know people by sight. But truth is, you don't always get to know everyone's name. In a parish like mine, with over 4,000 families, you're fortunate to learn a few hundred first names.
Some people understand this; others don't. They'll come up to you and very aggressively ask, "Do you know my name, Father?" I used to say, "Sure," and try to change the topic. But too often they'd call me on it.
So now I just tell the truth: "No, I know your face, but your name escapes me." Some get a little miffed. "But you did my sister's wedding three years ago," said one. "That," I responded, "was 300 weddings ago." A similar moment happened recently, but I was happy for the confrontation.
A young woman approached me after Mass. She waited until all the other folks had left before asking, "Do you know who I am?" I didn't. So I asked, "Have we met before?" "Well, yes, in a very unusual way."
Now she had my curiosity aroused. "Tell me where and when," I asked. "My name is Samantha. I'm 18. You actually knew my mother back when she was pregnant with me. So that's when we met, it just wasn't face to face."
"My mother raised me alone. She had little financial or emotional support. Her parents didn't like my biological father. He apparently left the scene once mom became pregnant. So here she was, just 19 at the time - pregnant, alone, poor and scared."
How, I wondered, did I fit into this story? Samantha continued: "I recently asked my mother why she didn't get an abortion. She said she almost did. But she happened upon a priest who gave a talk on the beauty of human life, and the need to protect it. You.
"She looked for you after Mass and you two talked. Just like we're talking now. My mom says she expected you to get angry at her when she said that she was pregnant and considering an abortion. But you didn't. You offered to help her to have me. She said that when she cried with fear about raising a child alone, your eyes filled up too."
I asked Samantha to tell me more. "My mom says you two talked for over an hour. And then, as mom said she needed time to think about her options, you offered her a blessing and prayed for me too. Mom says that blessing made her realize that there really were two of us, mom and me. I stopped being a problem and became a someone to her for the first time. I stopped being a crisis and became her child."
I wish I could say that I knew or remembered the encounter, but I don't. I wish I could say that I knew just the right words to say back then, but I didn't. Like many times in my life as a priest, I think God just used me as his instrument, and it's foolish to claim credit for saying the good stuff!
Samantha concluded, "When I heard that story I had to find out where you worked. I just needed to tell you that I'm grateful that you and my mom met when you did. She needed someone to listen, someone to care. She needed not to be condemned for what she was thinking of doing, but to be loved enough to see the positive possibilities.
"You did that and I think that's why I got to be born. So, when you're tired or having a bad day or when all the scandal stuff in the Church gets you down, please don't forget sometimes your life has more meaning than you know. Thanks for being there for my mom. Thanks for being there for me."
I'm going to pay more attention to those faces from now on. Sometimes they have the most beautiful stories to tell.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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