Thursday, December 10, 2009

Count Your Blessings

My First Real Encounter With Fr. Sam Johnston

This is a posting from a new blog called Life in the Spirit, that I have created with Father Sam Johnston, retired priest of the Diocese of London, and former pastor at St. Michael's Parish in Ridgetown, Ontario. These are my impressions of a delightful encounter I had with Father Sam yesterday. I hate the bad publicity that has come the way of some of our priests, and tainted the views individuals have of the Catholic priesthood. My way to fight against it is to present a priest who has been faithful, to counter. I hope this is just the beginning of a long relationship with one who represents the extremely large proportion of priests who are faithful to their vocation, and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour. I am delighted to give you a tiny glimpse of a holy man of God. If this glimpse into his priesthood is flawed, it is not him, but my inability to express in words that which cannot be described, but must be experienced to be felt deep in one's own heart.
I first met Fr. Sam over 15 years ago, when friends of mine, Barb and Wayne Zimmer lived in his Parish of St. Michael's in Ridgetown, Ontario. Though I was impressed with how much he was loved within the parish, I did not do more than meet him at that time. Recently, I met him again when I accompanied Wayne and Barb, who returned to London many years ago, as they led a Life in the Spirit Seminar at that same Parish of St. Michael's.

Because there as something he wanted to do on the Internet, or at least that was the hook, Fr. Sam invited me to come to his house in Ridgetown and share some time with him, ostensibly to discuss a possible blog. Well, if you are reading this you are probably reading it on the BLOG, so you know that we did discuss blogging.

But, yesterday I did not just meet Fr. Sam, I encountered Fr. Sam, and I am grateful for the opportunity and eager for more. The night before, I had a call from Father Sam, asking me to come earlier than planned and to bring my appetite. On various occasions in my life, I have had the pleasure of dining with a priest, either pastor or friend, but this was different. This was more than that.

On entering his home, some things immediately come to mind. Father's love for those he has met over the years, particularly Jesus, is evidenced by little pictures pushed into door frames, and icons and religious items spread throughout the kitchen area. His home is holy ground, particularly the kitchen, where we spent out time together. It seemed appropriate to me that we spent our time there, as the kitchen is the heart of the home, and no less so in the home of this man of God.

Father Sam shared many stories with me, most of which are lost for now, leaving mainly delightful impressions of a life well lived in faith and holiness. He also asked about my life and listened attentively, well . . . like a Father. He shared with me about how during his priesthood he had the experience of feeling that the term "Father" had come to have deep meaning to him as he had grown into being a spiritual father to those he shared life with. I felt that to be true as I encountered "Father" Sam.

I had my first turkey dinner of the season with Fr. Sam, as he had decided that he wanted to cook up a turkey that had been in his freezer for a time, and looked up on the Internet how to do it. Father Sam also likes to bake, so we had cake for dessert, and apple cider to drink that had come from the family farm of a now deceased priest colleague of his, who I had known as well.

The hook was sinking in. I could feel it.

We discussed using the Internet to share a large number of prophecies that had come his way during the last 35 years or more, and I have that file sitting beside me at my desk as I write this, and posted the first one last evening here. I hope to do justice to posting them all in the fullness of time though I have some other thoughts I discussed with Fr. Sam for the blog I was having in mind for him.

The hook was set.

Father Sam moved in for the kill, as in killing me with kindness and love. I knew before I went to visit him that I hoped to have the opportunity to have him hear my confession. I love the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the grace that flows from it. Father Sam told me about places that he had heard confessions, coffee shops, retail stores, street corners, and so on. He thought he was reeling me in. I was already in the boat.

I knew that he loved hearing confessions and dispensing the graces of that beautiful sacrament, and he had said on another occasion that there was nothing new that he had not already heard and that he could not be surprised by the sins people confessed and how blessed and humbled he felt to be able to participate in this sacramental experience with those who came to him.

Since I was in the boat already, I asked him if he heard confessions at his kitchen table, knowing the answer. The dance was fun, but I was eager for the grace. He, of course prepared himself to hear my confession. To my surprise, even though he had foretold it, he was not surprised at my sinfulness. He didn't order me out of his house. Instead, he enveloped me in grace as I opened up about areas of my life that have been secret, even from me, at some level.

For my penance, I was to Count My Blessings on the way home, including looking in the bathroom mirror and counting that person in the mirror as a blessing. Father Sam also gave me a particular task of reconciliation to do that I will be doing as soon as possible. One particular blessing that I awoke to, was the blessing of having encountered Father Sam yesterday, and of getting to know him a bit, with the opportunity to have an earthly Father again, since my Dad has been gone for over 25 years now.

Before I left father invited me to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with him, the evening prayers. What a joy to be invited to share in that experience with him, and to be blessed by him at the conclusion.

After that we talked about something very dear to Father's heart, his time with Jesus daily. He told me how he gets up well before the crack of dawn every morning and comes to his kitchen and has coffee with Jesus, as he experiences his relationship with our Saviour. There are times, too many it would seem, that my mouth gets moving before my brain engages, and I asked him how Jesus took his coffee. He looked at me with a Father's look, and said: "Jesus doesn't drink coffee," like I should have known that. Sort of as in doesn't everybody who has a personal relationship with Jesus know that he doesn't drink coffee? Not a put down, just a statement of fact.

I left shortly after that to make my short trek home to London, and Father, well Father Sam was off to help hear confessions in Thamesville, about 20 miles up the road. While I had been with him he had taken two calls from brother priests to confirm that he would be coming to hear confessions over the next several days.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. For some of us like Father Sam, it is really close at hand.

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