19 March 2007

A little push

We’ve honored St. Joseph with two Masses today – an early Low Mass and a Sung Mass later in the morning – and I’m still thinking about how grateful I am to him. Many years ago he nudged me into the Church.

I was a young Episcopal cleric just returned to Rhode Island from a stint of serving in the Anglican Diocese of Bristol, England. The parish I had come to was middle-to-high: vestments, occasional incense, a few statues strategically placed.

There was a parishioner who wanted us to have a new statue of St. Joseph. The old statue was small and not in terribly good shape. I was deputized to find a new one, but there were a couple of requirements. It had to be two feet tall and it had to be cheap. The only solution was to go to a local religious goods store and look for something that might look half-way acceptable if the lights were dim.

I found one. It wasn’t beautiful, but it didn’t look as though it had been dragged behind a truck either. “Wrap it up and I’ll take it,” I told the clerk. “Sorry, sir, but this is the last one and we don’t have a box for it,” was the reply. A dilemma. I was driving a Volkswagen, and the back seat was already fairly full with a child’s car seat and other assorted items. The only option I could see was to stand it up in the passenger’s seat and strap the seat belt around it, which I did.

I was just closing the passenger door. St. Joseph was safely strapped in, facing ram-rod straight ahead. I heard a voice behind me. “You might want to let him drive.” I turned around to see a young priest about my age, with a grin on his face. We exchanged quips about the statue with the seat belt, and then began to chat about other things. We quickly discovered that my Episcopal parish and his Catholic parish were located fairly close to one another. We seemed to click, we made lunch plans, and one of the most important friendships of my life began.

We got together regularly to talk. It didn’t take long for our discussions to turn into question and answer sessions – me asking the questions, and him giving the answers. I wanted to know about the Catholic faith. And he told me. He was always gentle in his answers, but he never watered down the truth. Even if the issue was a difficult one, he always told me what the Church teaches. I was grateful for that. I would have resented it if I had discovered that he was tailoring what he said to make it fit what he might have thought I wanted to hear. I learned Catholic truth, and when it was presented to me in its fullness and in its beauty, I knew I had to embrace it. I believed it completely.

How grateful I always have been to St. Joseph. Without saying a word, he helped bring me into the Catholic Church by introducing me to a faithful Catholic priest. The statue may not have been very beautiful, but everything else in the story is.