My Dear Parishioners:
Fr. John Shea tells a story about a pastoral visit that changed his life. It was a rainy Monday morning and the next thing on his to-do list was to visit two parishioners who were in the hospital: Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Lux. On entering the first room, he said, “Good morning, Mrs. Gray.” An elderly woman looked up from the magazine she was reading. “Oh, Father,” she said. “You’re here. I thought you had forgotten me. I called you on Friday, but it’s been three days. I thought I was no longer important to our parish.” For a moment, Fr. Shea thought about informing Mrs. Gray that over the weekend he had a funeral, two weddings, three weekend Masses, and a parish retreat. But what he said was, “Mrs. Gray, I’m sorry it took me so long to get here, but I’m here now. What can I do for you?”

“Oh, Father,” she said, “I’m 82 years old and my life is falling apart. I’m losing my sight in one eye and I have a strong pain in my back. I have friends who are in their nineties, and they still walk a mile a day. What have I done that is wrong? Do you think that God is punishing me?” “I don’t think that God is punishing you, Mrs. Gray. You are 82 years old. At that age our bodies begin to fail. This is the time to depend more on others. Do you have children?” “I have three children,” said Mrs. Gray. “But where are they? You don’t see them here, do you? Oh, they stop in occasionally or call me on the phone but, Father, I am basically on my own. I think my children are just waiting for me to die and inherit my money.”

There were many things going through Fr. Shea’s mind, but what he said was, “Mrs. Gray, you asked me to visit you. Did you have a specific issue in mind?” “Yes, I do,” she said, “I know there is a new pastor at the parish, and I want to make sure he knows who I am, that he knows how much I have done for this parish. When they put the addition on the church, I gave a huge amount. Over the years, I have raised plenty of money for the school. I want him to know what I have done, so he doesn’t think that I am just anybody.” “Mrs. Gray,” said Fr. Shea, “we all know you are incredibly special. I think we all appreciate how much you have done.” “Good,” she said, “that is as it should be.” Fr. Shea gave her a blessing. As he turned to leave the room, Mrs. Gray called out, “Father, Father, pray for me. My life is going down the drain and I am alone.” He left the room with a bitter sigh.

He walked across the hall into Mrs. Lux’s room. The minute she saw him, she said, “Fr. Shea, how nice to see you. How thoughtful of you to come and visit me.” Fr. Shea noticed that her room was filled with flowers and handmade cards with big red hearts on them. She pointed to them with pride. “My children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. Father, I have the most wonderful family.” “I’m sure you do,” he said. “Now, why are you here in the hospital?” “Cancer,” she said, “and it’s serious. The doctors say I have two months.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Fr. Shea. “Don’t feel sorry for me, Father. I’m 85 years old. I’ve lived a full life. I have many friends. I have a wonderful family. I have my faith. In a short while, I’m going to see Jesus.” Then as if she just remembered something, she looked at him and said, “But, Father, how are you? You look tired.” “It was a rough weekend,” he said. “I bet it was,” she said. “But Father, I want you to listen to me. This is important. You’re doing a wonderful job. The people in the parish love you. I love you. Never forget that.” “Thanks,” he said. Then she said, “Well, I’ve taken enough of your time. You go along, but remember I pray for you every day, and when I get to heaven, I will pray for you still.”

As Fr. Shea left the hospital, he had what he would call a personal revelation. He realized that one day, he would be in one of those two rooms. He would either be like Mrs. Gray or like Mrs. Lux. He would either be a bitter old man who was afraid and complained about everything, or he would be a blessed old man, thankful for his life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus lists both blessings and woes. But Jesus does not place anyone in either category. We choose the category in which we belong by the way we live. Jesus gives us these blessings and woes to remind us that we can be rich, powerful, and important, but that does not necessarily mean that we will be happy. If we think only of ourselves and our influence, we can end up old and bitter, like Mrs. Gray. At the same time, we can be poor, experience terrible loss, and lose our health, and our lives need not be ruined. If we can be thankful and remain generous, we can be blessed like Mrs. Lux.

So which person do you want to be? In which room do you want to end up? Do you want to be cursed or do you want to be blessed? You decide. But remember, where you end up depends upon the choices you make today.

The character Fr. John Shea is fictional, but it could easily be anyone of us…So could Mrs. Gray or Mrs. Lux!

Fr. Monteleone

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