Late in the evening, the waning sun closed each of its burning hot rays. We had come to this day after passing through portals of thorns and hot coals in the days and weeks past. We were expecting guests: a beloved priest and a friend, from hundreds of miles away. After a day of frantic housecleaning, I rose early again, to get a head start on cooking preparations. My back was sore. My husband and I were more than a little tired from work and the awful weather and its high temperatures.
But we kept our minds and hearts fixed on the light ahead: Father’s visit. We hadn’t seen him in some years, and we looked forwards to time with him. We weren’t sure how we’d manage the visit. Cooking for our large family was tough enough; cooking for guests, even only two, after a work week of endless hills and gullies, was reason enough to hold on the counter top and draw in a huge steadying breath.
Nonetheless, I prayed that God would bless this visit and the two souls coming to us. So often, we ask and expect a lot of our priests, but we tend to forget that, like us, they too require food for their spirits and strength for their journeys, through bonding and companionship. Priests have sacrificed family life for the love of Jesus. Many minister in parishes very far away from their own loved ones. We take this love-gift for granted. We shrug and say, well this is what priesthood is about, and we expect our priests to accept it, be cheery about it and not burden us with the loneliness this great sacrifice entails.
Some years ago, I remember reading Fr Joe Jenkins’ blog where someone asked him how his Christmas would be. His reply told of saying the Christmas Mass, of standing at the door to the church later, in the winter’s cold, wishing each parishioner Merry Christmas, then locking up the church, and going to the stillness and loneliness of an empty quarters. Fr Joe wrote simply and without seeking sympathy. But his words pierced my heart.
For it never occurred to me until then that a priest could experience loneliness. That he and his brethren stifle this deep ache and go about their priestly duties every single day in joy of poverty, bringing Jesus to us as best as they can.
It was this image that I kept before me as my husband and I chopped and pounded and raced from corner to corner today. I prayed that our family and our home be the blessing Fr and his friend needed.
We might never know what wounds or needs they came with as they drove in with cheery waves and bouncy laughter. Yet, for the hours they graced our home with their quiet and their cheer and their oneness with us and our life, not a shadow crossed their sunny visages. Before us were two people who loved and respected family and in their own ways, sacrificed and worked to save family life.
Because we said Yes to this visit, because we begrudged not our love and whatever strength we had, the fire-hot hours brought us together in this beautiful, tender communion of hearts. Priest, young man waiting for the right girl, married couple and their bouncy brood. We heard the words we needed for our own journey ahead. And in return, we hope we offered simple witness to the beauty of marriage and family life.
As my husband and I looked up at the solemn orange moon and its muted gold aura later at night, peace settled gently into the folds of our hearts. I whispered my thanks.
This was no random visit. Jesus had indeed come to us today.