I just had the most extraordinary conversation with a random man who turned up at the front door of the presbytery here at St John Vianney. He was quite distressed and wanted to share his story. About 30 years ago he had been mixing with the wrong kind of people, who taught him how to swindle clergy for money – which they used to buy alcohol of course. He told of the various stories that they made up – an aunt had died in Albury or Armidale and an uncle was able to drive him to the funeral, but as a pensioner he needed help with money for petrol, etc. (The stories are still much the same today!)
This particular day he came here to SJV and the priest wasn’t willing or able to give him any money, but gave him his lunch instead. The man was so annoyed that he couldn’t take money back to the others that he began cursing the kind and loving priest, spitting in his face, blaspheming, etc. Through all this the priest continued to show patient compassion, simply wiping the spit from and face and still tried to help the man. This is what caused so much distress over the years. He couldn’t believe that the priest didn’t get angry and strike back.
Although convicted for armed robbery, assault, drug dealing, etc and spending many years in and out of gaol – including some years in maximum security, it is this act of compassion that had stayed with him. He had to ask for forgiveness. He said that he has driven past this presbytery many times and he wanted to stop – but it was only tonight that he finally found the courage to not only ring the door bell but also wait for the answer.
I don’t know who the priest was or if he is still alive, but his kindness and cool head that day had a profound impact upon this man (call him BM). It was a wonderful privilege to be able to share the gospel of grace, mercy and forgiveness with him tonight, to pray with him and watch the burden of so many years begin to lift and freedom finally begin to dawn in his shattered soul.
Bless his name!