Jesus answered: ‘Will you lay down your life for me?’ - John 13:38

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Last Rites on a Wintry Night

A Halloween tale from Fr Joe (not from Opus Dei :p)

A Catholic Ghost Story from Southern Maryland

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. His small parish in Charles County, Maryland, was a good one with simple but hardworking and faithful people. True, the area was a bit remote from the power center of the Archdiocese, but that had a positive side as well. However, such sentiments were best left unexplored and never expressed. The wind howled outside like a woman’s cry, and it was ever so dark. Peaceful— that was nature of this assignment; it was like a perpetual retreat. Counting himself fortunate, 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 sacraments!”

The priest became immediately alert. He grabbed his coat and sick 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. 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 bed and quite sick. The priest heard his Confession, anointed him, and gave him Holy Communion— it would be his last.

Sitting alongside the old man, for that was assuredly what he was, the priest began to chat 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,” explained the priest, “rushing half-naked to get me to insure you would receive the Last Rites— that was quite a selfless feat of love.”

“But Father,” stammered the old man pointing to the picture, “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.

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