18 January 2009

Being a friend

There was a call on the answering machine the other day that tugged at my heart. It was from one of the Carmelite brothers telling us he missed our visits and friendship. We haven't visited him and the other brothers in quite some time. It could be a year or more.

While my father knew many priests and I grew up having dinner with his very good priest friend every Saturday night, you'd think I'd feel a little more comfortable around priests and religious. I don't. Other than baptisms and things like that, I don't seek out friendships with them, even just to say "hello" and be social.

Maybe it has something to do with the words of Our Lady, telling us to respect priests because they are hers. We are not to criticize them, we are to pray for them and entrust them to her. Hard to do sometimes.

Our family has a long history with the Carmelites in the area. Ever since I was a child, we attended midnight Mass in their cold and very austere chapel. My father was friends with Father John Mary long before Father became a priest. They remained friends until my father's passing, with Father John performing Last Rites for him. My father also was friends with the Jesuit priest, Father Stokel, who said Mass for the Carmelite sisters long before Father John established his cloister for the hermit brothers there and took over the duties of saying Mass for the sisters.

At my mother's funeral Mass, five priests concelebrated. All long-time (even childhood) friends of the family, except Monsignor Lavin from St. Thomas, who attended because I was a student there at the time.

This is just too much for my sensibilities. I can't explain why exactly, but when our parish priest came to bless our home many years ago and stayed for dinner, I remember being on pins and needles until he left. It was one thing to set up an appointment and speak to him in the rectory, but to have him in my home was a cause of anxiety. Even when he came to visit my father on several occasions when my father was dying, I stumbled all over my words every time he was here.

I became friends with one of the Carnelite brothers during the time my father was dying. This brother called every day to see how I was and to find out how my father was doing. After my father passed away, we began taking food out to the brothers. At first we were allowed access to most of the cloister. Then when we brought food, we were allowed into the entry way, eventually we were told to leave it on the step.

To me, this is what I expected of a cloister with hermit brothers. Running all over the cloister just didn't seem right. I completely respected their desire to live their vocation and to be removed from the world.

Then we had kids and the number of our visits dropped dramatically. I began writing this brother to stay in touch and to also allow him the solitude to live the contemplative life of his vocation. Eventually, I began to feel this was an intrusion too and stopped writing.

This Christmas, I sent a Christmas card as I usually do, but was surprised to get a call from the brother relating how he missed having contact with our family. I had never asked HIM how he felt, I had just unilaterally stopped writing.

Another friend and I have been out of contact for a few years now. This person is very difficult to get along with, although it would be interesting to hear her description of me! The last phone conversation we had, and in the last correspondence I received, she said she would call me. That was over a year ago. So, I sent a Christmas card with an update on all the things that have been happening lately. Surprisingly, I received a very warm Christmas card back with numerous Masses. Again, she said she would call.

I'm beginning to see I might need to call her.

Similarly, husband's aunt and I used to be very close. We talked all the time. In the past few years, however, she's kind of retreated, primarily because her husband is dying. I grew tired to calling her repeatedly, having the conversation cut short and her telling me she would call me back, but never keeping her word. I gave up trying.

But, I know how it is to be coping with having a loved one suffer from a serious illness. I remember how I felt let down by friends and family who didn't call or visit.

So, I think it's time to re-evaluate what kind of friend I have been to these people and to others. I think I can manage to write a letter or pick up the phone. Sometimes, a simple act of kindness goes a long way.


Christine from Maryland said...

You wrote: "Maybe it has something to do with the words of Our Lady, telling us to respect priests because they are hers. We are not to criticize them, we are to pray for them and entrust them to her. Hard to do sometimes."

I don't necessarily agree with the part about not criticizing them. If we don't challenge and criticize, our faith stagnates. And suppose no one had dared to speak about about clergy sex abuse? I grew up with six priests and brothers in my family, and I have almost always looked upon them as men first and priests second. Blessed to be chosen as shepherds of the flock, but still fallibly human. Strangely enough, that perspective has allowed me to respect and honor them even more over time.

swissmiss said...

I totally hear you on this. My father was the one who told me about priests and Our Lady, but he was never afraid to confront a priest who was in error. I think we are supposed to respect a priest because of his vocation, but then at the same time, not turn a blind eye. I think how charitably and prudently we handle the situation is the key...sometimes where you draw the line isn't so obvious.