True story. ….. Some thirty or so years ago, my wife and I went for a drive one summers day and headed for the Midlands to see if the properties where my forebears once lived still existed. We had a small number of addresses which my wife had obtained from census forms going back to the early 1800’s. As one might have expected the earliest of the dwellings the family had occupied no longer existed, but those from the turn of the 19th century had survived. I still had living relatives in the area, and we thought we’d try our luck and see if any of them was at home. Sadly, they weren’t, but as a last resort and to make the most of a golden opportunity to catch up with living relatives, I thought we would drive up to Hinkley, and see if Uncle Philip and Aunt Marjorie were at home. Philip was my god-father, and I hadn’t seen him since the early 60’s. I didn’t have his address, so I went into a ‘call box’ to check if his number was in the Telephone Directory. It wasn’t, and so I called directory enquiries only to be told that his number was ex-directory. Of course you will appreciate this was before the days of mobile phones.
Then I had a brainwave. Uncle Philip was a keen golfer, and I knew that his golfing partner was a Parish Priest. So, Mary and I drove to the Presbytery concerned - and I’m deliberately not disclosing the name of the parish - to ask the PP for my uncles’ address. When we arrived at the presbytery, the priest was on the doorstep talking with someone whom I assumed to be a parishioner. I waited until the other person left, and then the priest turned to me asked me what I wanted. Briefly, I told him my name, the surname of which would be very familiar to him bearing in mind that my family had been in his parish and the adjacent parish since 1848; why I was in the area and why I would be grateful if he would tell me my uncles’ address. His reply stunned me. He said, ‘If you’d kept in touch with your uncle, you would know his address, not only that but I haven’t time to talk as my mother has just died.’ And with that he went into the presbytery and closed the door. All he had to do was give me the name of the road in Hinkley, and I would have found my uncle.
To say that I was surprised is an understatement, and in an instant, my opinion regarding the priesthood plummeted!
Fast-forward 30 years or so.
Another true story. ….. One evening during this last week, I received a telephone call asking if there was any food available at the back of the church. I said I wasn’t sure, as I hadn’t checked, but the church was still open and if there was any food, the caller was welcome to take anything he wanted. Ten minutes later, he called back to say there was precious little food, and certainly not enough for a simple meal, and as he had no money to buy any, asked if I could spare him some money to go and buy some. Unhesitatingly, I said no! …. Why did I say no? Because I didn’t have the energy to traipse up and down the stairs for the umpteenth time, even though I knew I would have to close the church sooner or later. I hadn’t given a thought to his predicament. No predicament, but no sooner had I replaced the receiver than guilt took over. “Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked ….. and didn’t minister to you?” ….. And instantaneously the following sentence pierced my conscience: …. “Amen I tell you, whenever you failed to do it to one of these little ones, you failed to do it to me.” (Mt 25:31-46)
Thankfully, the Lord gave me an opportunity to correct my error, as the next day the man phoned back, this time expressing a greater hunger. I asked him to come straight back to the presbytery as I had funds for him. I felt ashamed, and what made me blush even more was the sincerity of his thanks.
You may be wondering what all this has to with today’s readings! In Jeremiah, the House of Israel and the House of Judah broke the covenant God had made with them. This week, I broke the covenant I made with God at my ordination. Some shepherd! Feed my lambs, … feed my sheep! …………….. In the 2nd reading to the Hebrews, Jesus submitted so humbly to his Father! ………. In the gospel, Jesus said, “If a man serves me, he must follow me!. …. ‘He must do as I do!’
Some thirty or so years ago I met a priest who I judged without knowing the true reasons for his attitude. There is only one judge, and he is merciful and just. More than can be said for me.