As I read about Bishop John’s meeting with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, I was thinking of when our local pastor visited my own home a few weeks ago.
‘I really don’t yet know the proper way to address you in formal situations,’
I admitted. ‘Is it, ‘Your Lordship’, ‘Your Grace’ or something else? ‘
That line of chat was uncomfortable for this most humble of men.
‘I’ll tell you a story, John,’ he answered.
‘There was this meeting of bishops, and a colleague was recounting his last movements before retiring for the night.
‘I like to call by the oratory, to say a prayer and bid ‘Goodnight’ to Jesus!’
‘And, do you know,’ he went on,
‘I often fancy he replies to me,
Bishop John was doubled over with laughter at his own joke. And so was I.
‘So it’s ‘Your Lordship’ ? I concluded, finally.
A faint smile.
‘ ‘Your Grace’ is for an Archbishop!’ was all he would confide in me.
Now I was reading the reporter’s account of the meeting with the Pontiff.
‘I told him,’ – and it was our local bishop who was now speaking …
‘that I had spent 6 weeks in a German diocese when I was a student in Rome in 1975. Amazingly, it turned out to be his home diocese. He told me that the ill priest I was temporarily replacing had been a classmate of his!
I added that I had more recently served in an East German diocese. He was very interested as he had never been to East Germany. We chatted for twenty minutes.
‘I told the Holy Father of the Irish Bishops’ collective trauma over the recent clerical abuse of minors. He expressed his own concern and sympathy for the victims.
Then I discussed my concern over vocations to the priesthood.
‘I have not ordained a single priest to the diocese since becoming Bishop in 1999. Year on year we lose priests. This year we lost four priests to retirement and another who is taking time out. I explained to the Pontiff how painful and difficult it can be for us all.
‘However’, Bishop John added,
‘We have two students – one just begun, and one coming towards the end of his formation.’
Bishop John said he was very taken with the way Pope Benedict spoke to people.
‘He really looks at you and you are the centre of his attention. He makes you feel he is listening to you with the greatest care, as is exactly what he is doing.’
Now, who is it that this reminds me of?
Ah, I know!
Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore!