Sanctuary Stranger


Ryan, the priest-novitiate nudged his superior in the arm and pointed to a pew mid-way down the sanctuary on the right side.

"There he is again. Same time almost every day. Looks around and then just sits there for about twenty minutes. Sort of a seamy looking character. I wonder if he means well? Remember the recent thievery?"

Monseigneur quietly examined the old fellow in the dwindling late afternoon light. Quiet surroundings. Votive candles flickering nearby. Archie practicing some Bach on the organ up front. Nothing to worry about. Just sitting there. Head slightly bowed. Old tweed overcoat. Peaked winter cap in hand...

The two men went on to other matters.

But then the simple visitor stopped showing. One day in a hospital visitation, Ryan had left a parishioner's bedside and was headed for the elevator when he noticed the old fellow propped up in a bed in a four-patient ward room. He yielded to the temptation to drop in for a short visit.

After introductions he learned that "Patrick", a retired machinist and widower, had been in for about eight days following a surgical procedure of some complexity. There followed some small talk about children and grand-children in distant cities and Patrick's interests and pass times in retirement. Finally curiosity brought Ryan around to the subject of the elder's daily church stops.

"Oh that's really quite simple. I love the feel of the place. The quiet. The Gospel pictures. The courtesy. The candles. Any music is a bonus. My wife periodically came to St. Mark's. I didn't. But now I come to pray."

"If you don't mind my asking, what sorts of prayers do you lift up. I'm a great student of prayer."

"Not much I guess. I sit down. Settle myself. Think of Heaven. Think of the many good things that have come my way. Think of ways to improve. Remember some friends. Quietly, I say something like, 'Hello Jesus, it's Patrick'. Then I wait for about ten more minutes. That's all."

A few more tid-bits were exchanged. Then the handshake. The departure. But Ryan had resolved to pay another visit soon.

The opportunity came the following Monday. On the seventh floor at the nurse's station, Ryan thought to stop and inquire about the patient's progress. He was told,"That Patrick is remarkable. Never a complaint. Always a hopeful glimmer in his eyes. Pleasant sense of humour. Often able to get the other patients in his room talking about something interesting. A real treat."

Bedside, Ryan brought up the nurse's good report to the mysterious man.

"Oh, that's all thanks to my visitor. He comes at break of day and stands at the end of my bed. I have always been an early riser. This hospital isn't going to change that. Expect to be out of here in three more days."

"You have a regular visitor?"

"Yep, Jesus."

"Are you serious?"

"No kidding, Ryan, it has been wonderful. Standing right there. Just as plain as you are."

"And what does He say?"

"For a while He just smiles at me, but then, "Hello Patrick, its Jesus."

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