In the Catholic tradition the faithful have had immense love and respect for their priests, though this has been badly shaken by the horrendous sex abuse scandals of recent years. The trouble with any tradition of love and respect is that it can descend into what I call the pedestal mentality – where priests are placed on a higher status – not good for them and not good for the church.
In one of the poorer parts of town,
I had just visited a primary school,
And as I was about to drive away,
I became aware of a tapping sound.
I turned to see who the culprit was
And saw a face in abrupt dismay.
An old man stood beside the car.
I reached across to open the door,
And heard him stutter awkwardly:
“Ah’m so sorry Fayther, I didn’a ken!
Ah didn’a ken ye wur a preest;
Ah’m awfy sorry, ah’ll nay bother ye!”
It took some effort to calm him down,
He was all for slinking off right there.
He had been hoping for a lift home;
Him and his ‘carry-oot’ for the day:
A chinking bag of booze and fags;
His daily dose to be consumed alone?
With some persuading he struggled in,
Excitedly mumbling about his luck.
His flat was but a few streets away,
So no great detour for me to make.
We had so little time to talk, and yet
He left a deep impact on me that day.
As he pressed some crumpled notes on me,
Our parting words went something like this:
“Fayther, say some prayers fer me thay day.”
“Of course I will and gladly so, but
You say some prayers for me as well!”
His reply left me in complete disarray.
“But Fayther, God wull lissen to yer prayers.
Yer prayers are wurth mair than mines.”
And off he shuffled, bottles gingling loud.
I don’t presume we ever met again,
But I was left stunned and immobile:
Staring vacantly and somewhat cowed.
Maybe I’m overreacting again,
As long ago, but in heaven’s name,
What manner of church and what God
Could tell a man that he was worth less
Than another man wearing a collar?
Further my God from Thee – period.
Do we wonder why alcohol holds sway?
Why depression and suicide abound?
Why the young see religion as uncool?
Why clergy preach to empty churches?
Why disunity and double standards blunt
Our witness – who’re we trying to fool?
Yet for all our well-intentioned debate,
That old man still went away dead chuffed:
He’d had a lift from a priest no less!
For all his drink-fuelled existence,
His humility and poverty of spirit
Shone through – His strength in weakness.