Thank you to the Unknown Priest

  • June 10, 2010
Many countries have a memorial to The Unknown Soldier. As our Year for Priests draws to a close, this story is my memorial to all The Unknown Priests.

Those are the priests who with a word, a challenge or a smile effect a radical change in our way of loving and perceiving God. One such priest was a Franciscan Friar who gave a weekend retreat for married women several years ago.

I had taken some overdue time out from my hectic life as the mother of five and the wife of a busy politician. I was so eager for some spiritual refreshment that I didn’t even care who the priest would be. I only knew I needed a couple of nights of solitude and quiet, with time to reflect on my spiritual life that was often neglected due to my exhaustion.

Once at the convent, we were assigned to our rooms and then directed to the dining room for a light supper. We were informed that this was a silent retreat, so meals were to be eaten with no conversation. What a change from Friday night supper at home.

After supper we moved into the warmth of the chapel, waiting expectantly for our first session and meditation. As I sat there, I was so overcome by the lack of pressure and the quiet that I barely heard what the priest was talking about. But then, all of a sudden, I perked up as if God had nudged me to stay alert for what was coming next.

I looked at the priest standing in his simple brown robe and sandals. He spoke in a soft yet deliberate tone to the women assembled.

“So you see, that is why we must never imagine that when we’ve done something wrong God will remove Himself from us even if we have hurt Him or we believe He is displeased or even angry. Put a picture in your mind of you and God standing face to face looking at each other. If you do something wrong, something sinful, it is not God who backs away from you. It is you who backs away from God. You are creating the distance between the two of you. He has never moved. He is still standing in the same place, remaining constant, desiring you to ask forgiveness and step forward to be face to face in union with Him again.”

As I listened, I felt a total shake up inside me. I realized that my entire life had been based on the erroneous idea that God withdrew Himself from me when I sinned. It never occurred to me that I was the one who created the distance. He was always there for me. Just like the father of the prodigal son.

The words of this dear Franciscan, whose name long ago escaped me, created a profound change in my view of my relationship to God. I can never thank God enough for allowing this Unknown Priest to be His instrument of insight for me. I returned home with a deepened understanding of God’s unconditional love and a determination to try to imitate it with my husband and children.

Dear Unknown Priest, wherever you are now, thank you for those words that changed my life.

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