Friday, April 10, 2020

All this you did for me . . .

Just after he had become Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007) walked up to the cathedral, paused for a moment as though reconsidering his next move, and then climbed the steps. On a bench near the front door sat an ancient grey-haired priest, seemingly in silent meditation. The Archbishop approached him diffidently, carefully studying his heavily-lined features, clasped hands and closed eyes as though establishing his identity. Then he spoke softly: ‘Father, may I sit with you for a while?’ 

The old man looked up at the unfamiliar features and pectoral cross, puzzled but politely. He smiled and motioned to the Archbishop to sit beside him.

‘Forgive my intrusion,’ the Archbishop said. ‘But I have a story I must tell you.’ The old man nodded quietly and waited. 

The Archbishop began:  

Quite some time ago now a small group of boisterous young men, fresh from an afternoon’s drinking session, were walking past a parish church. One of them drew the attention of his friends to a notice on the door, listing the times for confession. Amid raucous laughter, he suggested: ‘Why don’t we have a bit of fun. Let’s make a list of the very worst sins we can think of and then draw lots as to who should go in and confess them.  It’ll be a lark seeing how the poor old priest reacts.’ ‘I’ve got a better plan,’ jeered another of them. ‘Seeing it’s your idea, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is. I bet you a hundred francs you don’t have the guts to do it.’ The young man tensed a bit but rose to the challenge. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘let’s get working on the sin list.’ 

It wasn’t too long before the same young man emerged from the church beaming, brandishing a slip of paper. ‘Well, I’ve won the bet,’ he said.  ‘Here’s proof I’ve been to confession.’ 

‘What’s that?’ asked his friends. ‘It’s my penance, handed to me by the priest himself.’ 

‘What did he say?’ the others asked. 

‘He didn’t say anything, just handed me the slip.’ 

‘Well,’ said one, ‘have you done your penance?’ 

‘Don’t be silly. I don’t go for that nonsense,’ he replied. 

‘Then I don’t pay you your hundred francs’ said his challenger. ‘No penance, no confession.’  He was adamant. 

Seeing they were unyielding, the young man went back into the church, reading the priest’s note as he went. ‘Kneel before the large crucifix at the altar, look up, and repeat ten times: “All this you did for me and I don’t give a damn.”’

‘That’s easy enough’ he thought, making his way to the altar. 

He reached the crucifix and knelt down. His eyes took in the nailed hands and feet and the infinite sadness in the Lord’s eyes. Then they moved to the text engraved below: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ The young man began his penance:  ‘All this you did for me and I don’t give a damn.  All this you did for me and I don’t give a damn. All this you did for me and I don’t . . . ‘ About a half hour later his friends, impatient, went in to the church to find out what he was up to. They found him at the altar rail sobbing profusely. 

‘Well, that’s the story,’ said the new Archbishop. ‘Except for two things, I was that young man and you were the priest.’


Post a Comment