Yes, That Jesus. And I Mean ENCOUNTERED Not Just Met
Yesterday afternoon, I went over to St. Peter's Seminary, here in London Ontario, to visit with Father Michael Prieur, a priest I have known for over 25 years, who resides there, and teaches moral theology, among other things. Father Prieur also acts as the ethicist for St. Joseph's hospital here in London.
St. Peter's has this formal long drive at the front, that to the best of my knowledge is not used all that often, except for formal occasions. As I always have done throughout my almost 60 years of life on this planet, I entered by the side drive. I turned onto the Colborne Street entrance and drove onto the seminary grounds, a place I have loved since my early childhood. I passed the house that is now the residence of the retired Bishop of London, John Michael Sherlock, a fine and gentle man, who I have had the occasion to know, ever so slightly, for most of 20 years.
To the left were the playing fields blanketed in winter white, where I played altar boy football in my youth. To the right is now Merrymount Children's Centre, where the vegetable gardens used to be in summer. But, in winter the hockey rink stood there in my youth and beckoned the kids of the area to come and play hockey on it, a siren call, if you will. There my friends and I from the local Catholic Parish of St. Michael's, a few blocks away, came to play hockey with the seminarians and priests, and to hear the slap of the stick on puck, and the bang of the puck off the boards. Funnily, I recall skating in, probably as a 9 year old, on a seminarian in goalie gear, deking him for all I was worth, and scoring, as he fell to the ice. It was the best goal of my life. There weren't many. I'm pretty sure that he let me beat him.
I drove past the St. Thomas Scholasticate building, which houses the Marriage Tribunal, and parked near the actual Seminary building. As I exited my car, on this beautiful winter's day, I could see a few hundred yards in the background, the offices of the Diocese of London, where my aunt worked for many years, and where I had many friends, some with clerical collars. There the current Bishop of London, since August 2002, Ronald Peter Fabbro C.S.B., maintains his office. Further over is the campus of King's University College, where I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario. Originally, it had been called Christ the King College, later King's College in my days as a student there, and now Kings University College.
For me, this has always been the heart of the Diocese of London, Ontario.
I entered the seminary building from the side entrance, as almost all do. It was like coming home, entering by the side door, rather than the front door. The front door in our house was reserved for visitors. Those who belong came in the side door, by the kitchen, where my mother was there to greet us with a cookie and a glass of milk, and a smile. This felt like home coming to me.
I presented myself at the reception area, and took in the peace that resides there. The Seminary has formed over a thousand priests since it began in 1912, 22 ordained bishops to date, and one more to come shortly, and 24 deacons with new classes coming out every two years now. So many fine people call this place home.
Father Prieur came to get me in a few minutes, and we adjourned to a parlour room to discuss issues that we both cared about. I had previously indicated to him that I was offering myself in submission to the Bishop, meaning that I would not be writing about certain matters that were a source of conflict, without his direct or indirect approval.
In the discussion that ensued we did in fact talk about matters that have been contentious, not so much for Father Prieur, but for certain bloggers and a particular media outlet.
But, something far more important for the salvation of my soul was going on that I might have missed, if I were deaf, dumb, and stupid. I might be the latter from time to time, but I am not yet the first two. It still has taken almost 20 hours for even some of what happened in that parlour to percolate up through my spirit.
You see, I went to visit Father Michael Prieur, and though I did, I encountered Jesus most profoundly in our meeting, and continued to encounter Jesus long into the night. He is with me right now. Time stood still while we met. I was in HIS Presence, as well as his. Michael, as we know is an archangel, but the name means "Who is like God." Father Prieur presented me Jesus in the flesh, as never before.
Father and I discussed many things yesterday. We talked about the process for discernment that goes in to the matters of his role as ethicist for St. Joseph's Hospital, the history of his work, his seeking of the truth in everything he engages in, and particularly his absolute submission to his bishop. He told me of the particular walks that he takes with Our Lord, when he is challenged, bothered or concerned, and how they speak to each other, until he knows what he has to do or say. Quite simply, I was in the presence of a man who is totally at peace with his life as a follower and lover of Jesus Christ, as a priest, as an ethicist. Yet, if told by his bishop to step aside, he would walk away to wherever he was sent, with no regrets.
But, there were several times when I knew that he and I were not the only ones present in that room. The first clue to me was a particular spiritual gift I was given many years ago, the gift of tears. In the presence of profound love, my eyes tear up. Sometimes I weep like a little baby, but with great joy. Father Prieur was actually in the building that I was in, "The Michaelite House" the first day that happened to me, though I don't think he knew. Yesterday, the tears were there for me, and I knew. I think I kept them to myself, but I knew. I knew.
During our discussion, I shared with Father Prieur 3 particular things that have happened and have impacted me significantly in my life. One, I wrote about in the posting What Happens When You Lose a Baby. I have carried a burden and much grief from that time in my life. Suddenly, I was wrapped in love. He knew, not just him, but HIM. My Jesus knew my pain, and He took it to the cross with Him. I mean, I already knew that. But in an instant I KNEW THAT. I did not have to carry that pain any more.
I also shared with him the most painful memory that a grandfather can have, about the death of my grandson in the womb, which I alluded to in this posting, of how I had wept for three weeks, until I finally was able to baptize him in the Spirit, and give him over to Our Lord. Father Michael told me that he could walk beside me in that. He said it and he meant it. I heard his voice and his words, but my heart heard the voice of Jesus, and leapt for joy.
I shared the third story, which though connected to me, was a story of grace involving my dear wife, and was similar to one that Father Michael shared with me. We had seen similar instances of God's Grace manifest in the simple loving actions of someone we knew. Some have tried to disabuse me of what I saw in that story, but I have refused to believe that what I saw was anything, but what I saw. Again, I felt God's love manifest. I knew that I KNEW.
Though time had stood still, as I was on the mountain top, I did not get to pitch a tent and stay there. Finally I had to leave. We bid our good-bye's and I floated to the parking lot. For the next few hours, I was engaged in helping my wife get my dear mother in law back home to Strathroy, including dinner in a restaurant. Back home, I tried to write my thoughts.
Then it came, like a thief in the night, though not this time. The Headache. Since my auto accident over 6 years ago, whenever I concentrate on something for a period of time, The Headache follows; sometimes mild, sometimes very severe. This one was not so mild. I went to bed, and immediately fell asleep. When my dear wife came to bed a while later, I awoke. She prayed aloud our evening prayers. I was unable to focus. I could not lift my head off the pillow. As I lay there, though something happened beneath the pain. I was reminded of the Crowning of Thorns. I had a headache, but Jesus had a headache followed by a crucifixion, and He did it for me. I joined my pain to His, for whatever purpose he could give it. It did not make the pain go away. It gave it a divine purpose. I can live with that. I can even celebrate it. I can "Consider all these trials joy."
My dear wife was having difficulty sleeping, possibly due to a reaction to a new and very serious medication she has started up on. I asked her if she wanted to rest her head on my chest. The most intimate moments I have ever shared with my dear wife are when we are like this. It is the most profound making of love I know.
I asked God to let all the grace that had come to me that day, go to her, to bring her healing. I know that it did. Yet, I was still filled up to the brim with that same grace.
The other day, I did a posting on Alter Christus. Our priests are ordained to be an Alter Christus for us. Father Michael Prieur was that for me yesterday, and many many times one or other of our devoted priests has been that for me, and for us all.
But yesterday, I was in the presence of Alter Christus, and Christus.
So, I concluded that there are those who in their interpretation of their faith, will choose to attack our Alter Christus, Father Prieur or Father Whoever. Yet, even in their attacks, in their seeking of the truth, there is a beauty and a grace. Father Prieur has taken a vow to obey his bishop, and so he does not respond to attacks on him or his work, out of that obedience. I am not bound by that vow personally, but I will abide by the vow, out of respect for Father Prieur, and for my bishop, Bishop Fabbro. Like Father Prieur, I will offer up prayers of thanksgiving for their seeking of the truth.
Thank you, Father Prieur.