Priest talks with nursing home residents. (CNS photo by Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)

Joy in Salvation

God offers us a chance to not take things too seriously

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“Nothing in this world is to be taken seriously, nothing except the salvation of a soul,” said St. Philip Neri. Or it might have been Archbishop Fulton Sheen. With the internet as the arbiter, it can even be tough to take attribution of quotes seriously. However, even salvation can present moments of whimsical enjoyment.

A few months ago, our emergency line rang at the parish. An elderly woman stated, “Father, I need a miracle.” This woman proceeded to tell me her name and stated she was staying at a hotel across from the parish and was stuck in her bed. “The maids have tied me to the bed,” she continued, “and they come in all night and wake me up and leave me there.” I was a little worried and, honestly, not sure if this was a real emergency, a crank call or if I was losing my mind.

We do indeed have a hotel near the parish, and so I called the hotel and asked if there was a woman by that name staying there. There was not. I was ready to dismiss the incident, but she called again and asked if I would help her get rid of the terrible maids. Our secretary was able to trace the call and discovered that she was a patient in one of the local hospitals. She had fallen and broken her hip, and as a result, was restrained to the bed since she was a fall risk. She also had a concussion, which was why the maids (nurses) woke her up frequently to check on her.

I went to visit her and almost lost it when she greeted me. “Father,” she said, “I am not sure if you travel, but do not stay at this hotel. It’s the pits!”

I visited that woman on a few occasions and always had great interactions with her. Yes, it was sad that she was not totally lucid because of her concussion, but her candor and joy were refreshing. So often, ministry can become somber and mundane, and I believe that God interjects moments of humor to help us appreciate his presence. A couple of weeks after visiting this woman, I celebrated a Mass at one of our local nursing homes, which is truly a wonderful experience.

The residents are always greatly appreciative of the visit, but they, too, are very candid. During the Our Father, many of the residents join hands, and there was a couple sitting side by side in wheelchairs, close to the altar. The wife reached out to take her husband’s hand, and he swatted it away quickly. “Get the hell off me!” He shouted. “This time is about Jesus, not you.” Although I probably would not have expressed myself in the same way, I understood the sentiment. Mass is salvific, and salvation is indeed a serious, personal moment, even at the expense of a stunned spouse and amused congregation. I momentarily thought about offering them a guest segment for our Pre-Cana classes but decided to pass.

There are several stories that I enjoy about St. Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican noted for his holiness and humorous ways in which he brought people closer to salvation. I often use these in talks to bring levity to pursuing holiness. When he was 9 years old, his classmate, whom he picked up for school each day, died. The boy’s mother was distraught, not Vincent. “Simply have faith!” he replied. He approached his classmate and shouted, “No more foolishness; it’s time for school!” The boy — back to life — went off to school with Vincent laughing as though nothing happened.

As a young cleric, he was passing through a town when a stonemason, falling from a roof, called out to him. “Father Vincent, save me!” St. Vincent told the man, “Stay right there!” The man was suspended in midair and St. Vincent went back to ask his prior for permission to help the man since he owed obedience to his superior. The superior gave permission much to the delight and astonishment of the crowd. St. Vincent walked away laughing and praising God. He is someone who knew the seriousness of salvation, but joy as well.

Certainly, not every situation can bring humor, but God offers us a chance to not take things too seriously every day. Priesthood is a serious endeavor, but the exercise of it can delight us daily, if we take the time to see it. May our ministry be filled with candor and moments of true joy.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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