One of the stand-out heroes of my life is a priest I never met, never was in contact with. I know of him only through others. They said that he was a very compassionate person and that his very presence seemed to bring peace and comfort, especially to those who were in distress of one kind or another. They said also that he was not known for what he said: no one ever quoted him. What I remember him for is just one event in his life. A very young child, a little girl, had died. Her mother was distraught, inconsolable, almost catatonic. The priest I speak of went to the child’s wake the evening before the funeral. The funeral home was packed with sympathizers, everyone there deeply concerned about the mother. All eyes were on the priest as he entered the crowded room and gently made his way to the grieving mother standing in front of the tiny coffin. He spoke with her, not for a long time. The woman began to come out of herself; she said a few words to him. She smiled — wanly, but smiled.
In the days following the funeral and burial, word quickly got around concerning the apparent miracle of healing that had occurred. Another local pastor, having previously heard similar reports about his fellow priest, went to see him. He said to him, “Tell me, please, what did you say to that grieving mother last week?” The young priest responded, “I really don’t know how to answer that question, because there isn’t much to say. All I remember is that as I entered the room and saw her, barely able to stand in front of the dead body of her little daughter, my heart broke. I could hardly talk. So I walked up to her, put my arms around her, and said, ‘I’m so sorry. These things happen.’”
Not very brilliant words. Nothing profound or insightful or memorable about them. Just a drab statement of the obvious. So what did happen? My analysis is that the words sometimes don’t matter all that much. It isn’t the words that produce a desired good or that ultimately touch the needy person. In the case of that priest, I think it was that he was so fully alive with the spirit of Jesus within him that he could radiate by his very presence alone the hope and the peace and the love of Jesus to this woman who was overwhelmed by sorrow. The words he used — so ordinary, so common – didn’t matter at all; they were overshadowed by the compassion that filled his heart and was spilling over to her. Neither poetry nor theology nor psychology could produce or adequately express the new life that he brought with him. That came from all the time he had spent in awareness of the presence of God. The priest’s whole self was a blessing to that woman.
We are all meant to be a blessing to one another. The account of the alleged miracle of Cana – whatever actually happened that day – is an excellent reminder to us that the rich wine of our lives not infrequently runs out. A major failure, a profound disappointment, an unbearable burden, plans that aren’t quite making it, a relationship that’s dying. The priest was right: “these things happen.” But our faith in the ever-present God and in Jesus gives us the right to hope that even the tepid waters of our life can and will be turned into even better wine than we had before! And this happens most often through the instrumentality of some other person.
We ought to think of ourselves as blessings, both given and received, as we count no one out as a blessing to us as we can be to others.