Wow! I have not written nor submitted any post for publication since October 12th of last year. I promise I will do better as we begin this new year of 2021. In my previous two posts I had used the words for the musical production of Les Miserables to show how Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Frederic Ozanam and Pope Francis were convinced of the reality that in loving our neighbor, we came to encounter the face of God.
Vincent and Louise referred to such love as affective and effective love. Frederic challenged his followers with the following words: The earth has grown cold. It is for us Catholics to revive the vital beat to restore it, it is for us to begin over again the great work of regeneration … Let us try to probe the wounds of the suffering men and women and pour in oil, soothing their ears with words of consolation and peace. In our own time, Pope Francis has told us that if we wish to be true evangelizers then we need to take on the smell of the sheep (EG, #24). I would like to present here an example of how difficult this can become in real time.
It was a Friday evening, and I was planning to meet some friends for a night of relaxation. The parish center closed at 8:00pm and I decided to sign out at 7:45 and prepare for my trip to downtown Brooklyn. I had no sooner gotten upstairs when I heard over the intercom the following message: any priest, please dial operator. I knew no other priest was home and so that evening I became any priest. To say the least, I was not happy with this situation. I knew when the call came for “any priest”, that usually meant that the person was not a parishioner and therefore wanted some kind of social assistance. On Friday night, however, all the social services were closed. Many people would come to the center on Friday evening believing they might be able to convince one of the priests or brothers or sisters to provide them with assistance. That was not going to happen this evening.
I said to myself: no matter what this person wants, my answer is: “no!” If he wants food, the answer is “no”; if he wants tokens for the bus or the train, the answer is “no”. You can see that, as I said before, I was not pleased with this situation that threated to make me late for my planned excursion.
As I went back downstairs, I kept repeating to myself: remember the answer is “no”!
When I arrived at the entrance to the waiting room, I met this man and woman who were carrying a small child. I thought to myself: sure, bring a child with you because perhaps that will touch Father’s heart and result in an affirmative response. I became even more angry with this perceived attempt at manipulation and so I repeated my mantra: “the answer is ‘no’”!
As I brought this man and woman and their infant into my office, I smiled politely and asked: “How can I help you”? (but in my mind I was saying … no matter what you say the answer is “NO”!).
The man then took the lead and stated: You see, Father, my wife and I have just come from the hospital. We are taking our son, our first child, to our home. We know that once we enter our home with our new-born child, our lives will change forever. So, when we passed the parish church, we thought we would come in and ask you to bless us so that we might have the strength to live together as a good Christian family.
I found myself fumbling for words. This was not what I had expected. In fact, my first thought was: what a clever way to ask for money; ask first for a blessing and then ask for the money. You see I really had the situation all figured out.
I stood and blessed the couple and their child and they began to cry as I pronounced the blessing. They thanked me profusely for taking the time to be with them … for blessing them … for caring for them … and they went back out into the street to continue their journey home. No, they did not want food or baby formula or pampers or tokens or money or … they simply wanted a blessing.
I was so grateful that this couple could not read my thoughts when I first greeted them in the waiting room or when I brought them into my office … my thoughts were focused on going out with my friends and enjoying a free night … and those plans were being upset by people who wanted some kind of a handout and so I was determined to say “no” to their request. Yet the only thing this couple wanted was a blessing.
God appeared in such a strange and unexpected manner that Friday night!
 Joseph I. Dirvin (translator and editor), Frédéric Ozanam: A Life in Letters, Society of St. Vincent de Paul:Council of the United States, 1986, p. 64-65.
To view other posts in this series, click here.