Sometimes moments in life become more than just memories or stories but parables. As a personal reflection, I would like to share a story from my life that is real but is also a parable to me. As a parable the story is no longer only about those who are in it, but about us. Memory is faulty, and in this retelling as a parable no effort is made to investigate the facts. I have changed the names to avoid any hint of gossip or distraction.
When I was in school my dad worked for a Catholic fraternal organization, like the Knights of Columbus, but different. This group was very family oriented and local groups would host family gatherings. One member who became a family friend was “Alice.” Alice was a woman of tremendous Catholic faith and kindness. She was a mother to everyone. In fact she was still a foster mother to troubled children into her 70’s. At one point her adult son “Robert” started coming to events. Robert and my dad quickly realized that they had know each other in college. Robert had gone to the seminary and became a priest. Robert and Alice were Black. Robert left the priesthood shortly after being ordained in the late 70’s out of frustration with the discrimination he faced. Fr. Robert felt isolated and disrespected, and in many ways he was. He left the church and went to work for decades as a counselor and community organizer among the Black community on the East side. In the few years I sort of knew Robert, God, and his mother’s prayers were at work in his heart. He realized God wanted him to return to his faith. He eventually reached out to the bishop of the Belleville diocese. Bishop Gregory is Black and there were fewer bad memories than in St. Louis. He was on his way back to God. His faith, his vocation as a priest, had been taken from him by the pain he bore from the weight of racism. But The Good Shepherd did not give up on him. Robert’s story ends in a bittersweet way. In the midsts of reconnecting with the bishop, he got very sick and after reconciling with God he passed on to his eternal reward.
What is the meaning of this story? This was happening as I first considered studying to be a priest. I saw the twists and turns in Robert’s journey of faith. I saw how it looked like he was going to finally be able to be both the man and priest he wanted to be at the same time. I saw how that ending was cut short when God called him home early. Why would I want to start on this journey with a God who can ask so much of us, a journey with a God who lets us struggle, a God who puts twists and turns in our way? Is following God worth it? Becoming the best version of ourselves requires overcoming burdens. It requires helping others with their burdens. It requires forgiving and seeking forgiveness. It is a difficult task, but a worthwhile one.
Our world is a messy one. It is mess that God himself stepped into to save. We can clean up some of the messes, we must. In the end it is God alone who can wipe away every tear and set all the captives free. He often does this on his own time and in messy ways. Let us work to build the kingdom l, but know it is God who will lay the final stone.
Rev. Nicklaus Winker
St. Ann Catholic Church
Living Faith Since 1856
7530 Natural Bridge Rd.
Normandy, Missouri, 63121
314-385-5090 ext 855
314-450-4855 (direct line)