Friday, 4 March 2016
Father Ignatius came out of the Sacristy after Mass and found Sharon still in church with her little three years old daughter Petra. They were standing by the Statue of Our Lady trying to light a candle.
“Are you still here Sharon?” he asked, “how are you these days?”
He must have touched a raw nerve because tears started building up in Sharon’s eyes as she said, “We’re well Father … doing as best we can …”
Father Ignatius sat on the first pew and little Petra left her mother and came running to him, handing him her toy bear.
“That’s a lovely bear” said the priest taking it from her hands, “what is his name?”
“John …” said Petra enthusiastically as she climbed on the pew and sat next to the priest. “John, you and me can now pray together …” she added, as her mother a few feet away knelt down by the statue for private prayers.
Sharon was a single mother. Her husband left her for another woman just after Petra’s birth and has not been seen since. Eventually, having no news whatsoever of her run-away husband, she divorced him in the civil court and brought up her little child as best as she could on Social Security Benefits.
After a few moments of silent prayers she joined the priest and picked up her daughter on her lap.
“I’ve been trying to get a part-time job …” she said, “nothing much, just a few hours a week to supplement my benefits and to become a little independent …”
“That’s good …” replied Father Ignatius gently.
“There’s just no work available …” she said, “I can’t go full-time because I have no one to look after Petra … and part-time work is either not available or is too far from home requiring two bus rides to get there …”
Father Ignatius said nothing as he prayed silently and handed the toy back to the child.
“I feel such a failure …” continued Sharon, “my life seems to be in a rut and stuck in failure … I’ve been rejected by my husband … rejected by my family who live too far away to care … and rejected by every employer in town and society in general …”
At this moment, almost by coincidence, the little girl on her lap said, “I love you Mama …”
“Well … you’ve certainly not been rejected by Petra …” said Father Ignatius quietly as Sharon kissed the child on the head.
“And I know you haven’t been rejected by Jesus either …” he continued.
Sharon smiled weakly.
“Rejection is very hard …” said the priest, “and we do sometimes feel as if we’re of no value or worth to others. But that is not always the case Sharon.
“We’re all valuable in the eyes of God, and we all have a contribution to make … you are very valuable to your little daughter who relies on you for everything.
“It’s good that you’re trying to find a job; and I feel deeply for you at what you see as rejection from employers.
“Rejection does not mean failure.
“Sometimes rejection provides you with clarity on where to go next. You say you’ve tried the local factories, and the electric company and the gas works for some clerical work …
“Perhaps your future does not lie there … I can’t say where just now … but maybe God is leading you somewhere else.
“For now it could be that you’re exactly in the right place where you’re supposed to be … and God wants you to spend your time looking after Petra.
“Sometimes He answers us by saying ‘Wait … not now … stay where you are and trust Me’; … do you see what I mean?”
“I understand …” Sharon replied smiling weakly again.
“I shall pray for you Sharon …” continued Father Ignatius.
“And now … would you mind doing me a favor please?”
“Yes Father …” she said.
“I’m having some trouble with the new speakers and microphone they installed in church recently. I wish to test the acoustics in here.
“Would you mind going to the lectern and read something from the Bible over there. Take Petra with you.”
Sharon walked to the lectern child in hand.
“Just read anything … I’ll stand over here” said the priest.
Sharon opened the Bible and read the first passage at the top of the page.
“That’s good …” said the priest, “wait a bit until I walk over there a little further back … now read again …”
She followed his instructions.
“The speakers here sound OK … I’ll go right back by the statue of St Peter … when I get there could you read again please.”
Sharon waited until Father Ignatius walked slowly to the end of the church by the exit door and then started reading the Bible.
He raised his hand in the air to stop her then walked slowly to the front once again.
“As clear as a bell …” he said, “I can hear your every word very clearly despite my old age … and if I can hear you, I’m sure everyone else can.”
“Sharon … we do need readers for Mass on Sunday. It’s really not fair to rely on just the same readers every week. You should really consider adding your name to the readers’ rota to help us out a bit.”
“But … I can’t read …” she exclaimed as she picked up her daughter tugging at her dress.
“You seem to have done OK just now … just think about it,” replied Father Ignatius, “you don’t have to decide right now …”
Sharon did think about it; and eventually she did join the readers list and did read on Sundays at Mass.
A few months later she also managed to get a junior clerical job working part-time at the local Catholic school leaving her child at the pre-school playgroup while she worked.