God does not waste time. This was the conclusion I arrived at upon reflecting on this experience.
One Sunday afternoon, while waiting for Luis, a friend of mine in his 50’s and a native of Zaragoza, who volunteered to take me in his car to Salou (a 20-minute drive from Tarragona) where I had a Mass at 8:00 P.M., I started the first glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary in front of the house where I was staying.
“¿Tú eres un cura?” (Are you a priest?), out of the blue, a middle-aged half-Romanian, half-Italian (I learned it later from him) man addressed me. As soon as I said yes, thinking that again my black clergyman has effectively revealed my identity, he immediately enumerated his grave sins.
“Yo he sido un drogadicto, alcohólico y he frecuentado los lugares malos como los de prostitución, etc.” (I have been a drug-addict, an alcoholic and I have frequently been in prostitution houses, etc.), he started to say. I wonder why the sight of a priest would always evoke in us the sensation of repentance and self-accusation. It happens to me oftentimes. Upon knowing that I am a priest, a newly-met person would say, “So, you’re a priest. It has been a long time since I had my last confession”.
Even in cases of jeers from people who are anti-Church and anti-clerics, this is the main topic for ridicule: that priests are ministers of confession, and therefore, seeing a priest is like reminding one’s self of his sinfulness. But even if reminding others (and especially myself) of our sinfulness were the only significance of my being a priest, it would be very worthwhile to be a priest.
* * *
“Tienes todavía esperanza”, (You still have hope), I sounded firm as I responded. And I saw a look of bewilderment on his face. May bukas pa is not just an understatement, although here in Spain it appears to be so, considering the economic and moral crisis that the society is suffering.
But a priest should be a living sign of that hope. And he can only be that sign if he lives with it concretely everyday of his life. Every after confession, after receiving the absolution, we can feel that sense of hope slowly transforming our lives for the better. It is a “performative”, not just an “informative” hope, as Pope Benedict XVI distinguishes (Cfr. Encyclical Letter Spe salvi, 4).
Despite our sinfulness, I think we have to cling to this hope. Of the three theological virtues, charity may be the greatest. But it is hope which is (and should be) the last to lose. By sinning, we may lack faith, we may go against charity; but we should never lose hope.
* * *
“Tienes todavía esperanza porque el Hijo del Dios vino para buscar a los…” (You still have hope because the Son of God came to rescue the …), I held my tongue, reluctant to mention “pecadores” (sinners) for it may hurt his sensibilities. But quickly he completed my sentence with “…enfermos” (the sick). I conceded.
To consider ourselves sick in front of God is the beginning of wisdom, of healing and of salvation. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Psalmist says. But why we fear the Lord? Because we know we have offended Him. And we know the consequences of offending Him, that’s why we fear offending Him again. But this refers to a filial fear, the fear of a son of God.
We can only be healed of our spiritual malady if we learn to recognize it in the first place. To refuse to see ourselves sick in front of God is pure pride. Besides, such refusal carries with it the logical consequence of not needing Christ and His salvation anymore. If I don’t need healing, I don’t need Christ. But if I am sick, “Lord, heal me!”
* * *
“Ya te encomendaré en mi misa” (I will pray for you in my Mass), I bade him farewell as he started to walk away. “Ya me voy, tengo que rezar mucho todavía”(I have to go; I need to pray more), was his reply. Both of us were refreshed by such a short but very substantial conversation. With the hope of being healed, both of us came out revitalized.
Indeed, God never wastes time! I was just waiting for a ride but He came to remind me of His love and to refresh me with His hope.