Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stopping To See The Flowers

It had been a long time since we had visited our priest friend, who lives an hour away, so my family and I made plans to go to Mass at his parish and take him to lunch.  We chose this past Pentecost Sunday. As the day drew closer, I noticed that the weather people were forecasting a scorching 94 degrees for the day. As excited as I was to go visit Father _____, I couldn't help but remember a hot summer's day a couple of years ago when we went to a Saturday vigil Mass at his church and practically melted in the pew. No, no air conditioning at his old, beautiful parish. I had fanned myself with the bulletin that day and we couldn't wait to jump into our air conditioned van.  So memories of that sweltering time came rushing to me.

Then I felt like a complete jerk. I mean, if I was warm, what must Father be feeling up on the altar with all of his vestments on, saying Mass? He must have been 1,000 times warmer than we were in our summer clothes! So I felt terrible even thinking about complaining about the heat as we drove there on Sunday.

We got there with only a few minutes to spare (construction!!) and there was Father, a bit sweaty yet happy to greet us right before what would be his third out of four Masses that day. But you'd never know it; his face lit up when he saw us and he shook our hands with a big grin and made a joke. It was already starting to get warm in the church, but every time I thought about fanning myself or complaining, I took a glance up at Father in his heavy red vestments and I stopped myself.

I'm not sure if it ever reached 94 degrees on Sunday. I don't think it did. But it made me feel pretty ashamed to even think about complaining. Especially when Father seemed so content.

I mean, I'm such a wimp.

After Mass, he tossed us the keys to the rectory.  "Go on in and make yourselves comfortable; I'll be right over because I have to talk to some people. I'll need to change too," he said sheepishly.  As we stood outside in the sun talking, I realized that he must have been melting.

We went around the back and let ourselves in to his unassuming little house.

"Are you sure we're supposed to be doing this?" asked my oldest son. We'd never been inside Father's house before, and certainly not without him.

I laughed.  "Yes, Father gave us his keys, didn't he?"  Still, it felt strange to be in his house because it felt like we were breaking in or spying.

"What do we do?" I asked my husband as we walked through his little, old-fashoned kitchen.  "Do we sit or stand? Should we go find a couch?"  He laughed.

"Look, Mom!" cried my youngest son, who loves Legos.  Father had on display a little Lego scene a young parishioner must have made for him: a Lego priest in a Lego confessional hearing a Lego penitent. At the top was a little Lego cross.  He was quite impressed by this, and the fact that Father would have that out on display in the kitchen. It was adorable. "Father must like Legos," I said.

"I guess we should go sit down,"  my husband said, who happened to spy an interesting book on Father's book shelf.  "Wow, he's got a lot of great religious books!" he said as he inspected the titles.

I shushed him.  "We aren't supposed to be looking at his books!"  It felt so weird to be in his house without him. "Now everyone go sit down!"

His little, simple house did not have air conditioning either, but it was comfortable and cool inside. We found his sitting room and sat down on the couch. One of the first things I happened to see was a framed portrait of St. Therese on an end table. He loves her dearly. I smiled.

 I also spied a half-inflated football on the floor near my feet and picked it up.

"I think Father likes football," I said with a grin.

My teenaged son took it and held it for a bit.  A football-loving priest.  Very cool. Very real. We also saw some baseball books and a baseball on a shelf.

"He needs an air pump," I said, wishing aloud we had thought to bring ours for his football.

"Mom, seriously? Who thinks to just throw an air pump in the car?" I laughed at that because he was right.

Father finally came in and apologized for taking so long.  "Are you OK? You want a Coke? You want me to put on the TV while you wait for me?"

"Oh no, we're just fine, really. Take your time, Father," I said, feeling bad that he felt he had to wait on us.

A few moments later, he came downstairs looking refreshed and said, "So. Who's hungry? Where would you like to go?"

"It's your choice," my husband said. "You get to pick."

"Well, I am treating, so I don't want any arguments," he declared.

We argued as hard as we could, but to no avail. Finally he told us you can't argue with a priest, so that settled it. We tried again later, but he would have none of it.

After he kept bringing the subject back to what we would rather have to eat, it occurred to me what a great person Father is. Very humble, very simple, very generous. Always thinking of others' needs first.  Unlike me, I can't ever imagine him complaining about anything. I am sure he must once in a while, because we are all human after all, but after spending the afternoon with him and listening to him talk at lunch , I realized that I need to simplify my life in many ways.

First of all, I need to stop complaining when things don't go exactly my way. Second of all, I need to enjoy my life without worrying about the future, what will come next.  Father's quiet, unassuming demeanor was just what we all needed on Sunday to realize that we have so many blessings in our lives, if we would just stop to appreciate them. He has such strong faith. He knows God will provide for our emotional and physical needs.

When my sons found out that Father used to play shortstop in semi-pro baseball before he became a priest about ten years ago, well, his coolness was officially sealed.

"Do you help coach the school baseball team?" my oldest son asked Father.

"No," he said simply and matter-of-factly, yet without a trace of bitterness.  "We don't have enough students for a baseball team." We didn't know what to say to that. We are so used to our large schools, bursting with students on many athletic teams. And here was this little Catholic school without enough students to fill a baseball team, that may even be in danger of closing. It was then that I realized how spoiled we are out here in the sprawling suburbs.

We talked about religion, music, school, joked and had a wonderful time at lunch. He mentioned the flowers some of the ladies had planted by the rectory. "Oh, you have to see them! They are amazing!"

I had seen flowers.

I think.

Or maybe I was too concerned with being warm.

I tried to remember. "You mean the roses by your front door?"

"No, the flowers near the side. There are so many! Oh, you have to see them! They're beautiful!" he exclaimed.

We had a delicious Sunday brunch and ate so much we were stuffed. It was quite a treat.

"I think you're going to be a bishop one day," he told my youngest son, who beamed. "So I'd better be nice to you!"

We drove Father back to the church. It had been a long, warm day and he still had to celebrate Mass at 5:15. He looked tired, but he never let on, never complained, as is his way.

"I hope you can have time for a little rest now," I said, thinking that I'd probably be a little crabby if I were in his shoes on a hot day like that.

He nodded. "I'd like to. I think I may be able to," he said with a little smile.

He said a beautiful blessing over our family as we sat parked in the van out in front of his house.  Then, as he got out, he excitedly said to us, "See the flowers by the house? The ones I was talking about? Aren't they so beautiful?"

I peered through the window and saw the pretty flowers on the side of his little house. They were, indeed, very beautiful.   I was embarrassed to think I had missed them before.

"I see them now, Father!"



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