The priest was happy to have a fire burning. It was a cold winter night and it felt good to be settled in for the evening. Pastor of a small country parish in Charles County, Maryland; it was a good assignment. Simple but hardworking and faithful people made up the Parish membership. True, the area was a bit too remote for some, but it fit him fine. He preferred a slower-paced life far from the hectic city and the hubs of power, both of the Government and of the Archdiocese. He had adequate time for his many Parish labors and for quality prayer. He enjoyed the latter in a way that other men could only know on religious retreats. The duties for many priests, in supposedly better-placed assignments, only allowed for a hasty saying of required orations. He was not an ambitious man. It was enough for him to be thought of as a good hard-working priest. This was his humble goal in life.
Like a sad woman’s lament the wind howled. It was ever so dark. There was no light pollution as in the city or suburbs. The Catholic cleric opened his breviary to say his prayers; hopefully he would finish them before falling asleep. He had barely begun when there was a knock at the door. Perhaps it was just the branch of a tree? Knock, knock!— no, there it was again— who could it be at this late hour of the night?
Throwing on his cassock he went to the door and opened it. “Yes, can I help you?” said the pastor, somewhat irritated at the interruption.
“Father, you have to come quickly, my daddy is dying!” cried a young teenage boy.“You have to come as fast as you can; he needs the Last Rites!”
The priest became immediately alert. He grabbed his coat and sick call kit and ran out the door with the boy. Journeying to the house, he noted that the boy was only dressed in a flimsy shirt and shorts. He was even barefoot. No doubt the boy had run out to get him at a moment’s notice, thinking only of his father. He put his coat over the pale cold skin of the child. “Goodness, boy, if you’re not careful you’ll catch pneumonia yourself!”
“I’ll be okay, Father. The main thing is that you take care of my old man. He meant to contact you before this, but, well, he never thought his health would go down so quickly. We don’t have a phone so I ran to get you.”
“You’re telling me that you ran all this way to get me? You’re quite some boy. But rest and warm yourself now,” replied the concerned priest. He turned up the heat in the car. The boy pointed the way and the priest made good time driving to their home.
Upon arriving, the priest jumped out and ran into the house. If the fellow was as bad as the boy made out, there was no time to lose. Sure enough, there he was, lying in a small bed near the burning stove and quite sick. The priest heard his Confession, Anointed him, and gave him Holy Communion— it would be his last.
Taking up a lonely vigil alongside the old man, for that was assuredly what he was, the priest chatted with him. “Ah, I see you have a picture here of your son,” said the priest, picking up a photograph near the man’s bedside.
“Oh yes, Father, that’s my boy,” returned the old man.
The priest added, “You must be proud to have a son like that, running all the way from here to the rectory for the priest on a night like this.”
“What Father? What do you mean?” he asked.
“Your boy,” repeated the priest, “rushing half-naked to get me so that you would receive the sacraments— that was quite a selfless feat of love.”
“But Father,” stammered the old man pointing to the old photograph, “my boy has been dead these eighteen years, it was summer and he drowned.”
This story was told and retold to me many times by my father. It is a wonderful testimony of the value of the sacraments and the bond of love which transcends the grave.