This priest was servicing two parishes. To both he was giving exactly the same offices, the same care, zeal, and heart. These were happy and privileged parishes. What an admirable parish priest! These were my thoughts as I was preaching there for the Jubilee.
When I commented on it, I received a protest commanded by humility. It concluded in these terms:
“And also, my Vicar does more than myself.”
“Your Vicar? But Father, for the two days that I have lived with you, I have not seen the shadow of a Vicar…”
“I shall show you this shadow of Vicar as soon as we get a free afternoon. For this we need some time, a car… and a great spirit of faith.”
The time finally came, and driving we were to find the whereabouts of the Vicar! The sun was giving the countryside a seductive touch, quite irresistible. Through mountain tracks, the light and speedy car is climbing the windy road, singing with all its cylinders. There, over the plateau finally the first farms of a large hamlet. “He lives here!” whispered the parish priest.
“Ah! Now I understand. This Vicar of yours must be servicing a mission chapel, I imagine?”
“Oh, no! He would be absolutely incapable, the dear friend… He simply takes care of my parishioners.”
“You must be joking, Father!”
“This is very serious… This is the pure truth.”
I decided to keep silent, ready for any eventuality. Had I seen come under my nose the devil or a cherub, I would not have been surprised. But what I saw, all of a sudden, left me pallid. I remained standing, with a tight throat, moved to tears, for a few minutes unable to articulate a sound.
There before me, on the porch, lying in a child’s cart, an unfortunate cripple, I saw his arms and legs incredibly atrophied with knots and twists from rheumatism. And topping this deformed body and little baby hands was the head of a man of thirty years, strong, lit with intelligence, radiating goodness, all smile and joy. His lips were as if ready for the welcoming word and witty humor… He was the Vicar!
Right away, I understood… I understood that his priesthood, his apostolate, were none other than those of the sacrament of suffering accepted and offered for his two parishes… And the tears which filled my eyes were about to burst out… But he, suddenly, restored calm by the sparks of his good humor!
“Hey! Father, what a great idea you have had to bring here the good priest!”
“Well, I thought that you would not be too upset if you too could follow the Jubilee.”
“Indeed! If, however, you are willing to dispense me from the six visits to the church!” And he burst out into laughter.
I, disconcerted by so much joy, was gazing at him who was mimicking the child about to be scolded.
“I must look a strange fellow, mustn’t I? As you see me, I cannot remain serious for two minutes… I always feel like singing. It is too much for me. I am so happy! Ah! God is so good, if you only knew!”
“And you are admirable, dear friend, to adapt so well to His will. Not everyone enjoys your happy resignation.”
At that very moment, the parish Priest showed him a piece of paper. He glanced at it.
“Father, this is my home work. Father says Mass and administers the sacraments; he preaches—and quite well, I have been told although I have never heard him; he visits the sick and buries the dead… Meanwhile, I pray for the intentions which he brings me once a week. And there are quite a few! So, I can hardly have time to rest.” (Another outburst of laughter.)
“Well! My dear Michael,” the priest told him, “I count on you. We’ll work it up together, won’t we? Alone I would not last long… Pray steadily and offer your day for my parishioners.”
“Of course, dear Father! And make it back soon!”
“Yes, I shall be back on Thursday to bring you the good God.”
Five minutes later, our car was speeding downhill.
“You’ve seen him now, my Vicar?... He has been like this since the age of seven, and now he is thirty two. And never a moan. People come from three leagues away to be edified. In the evening the neighbors watch with him. He tells them stories. He reads aloud some instructive or pious pages. Without meaning it, he preaches in his own way. He recites the night prayers… and this, daily. The only thing he cannot do are the Mass and the sacraments. This is too much for him. It is my part of the load.”
And I started to think, and I still think of so many invalids in pain and suffering: pains and sufferings turned into revolt and blasphemy when they could be working out the redemption of the world!
You who suffer, think of the souls in need of salvation! Become our Vicars!
Heaven’s gates open more readily when one pushes them with wounded hands.