The woman's words were desperate. Her baby was stillborn. She tried to reach her pastor to arrange burial for her infant and for whatever reason could not find him. Struggling with her grief, she called another parish clear across the city.
The young priest heard her anguish and told her, "I'll bury your baby."
The retired priest, a devoted golfer, was readying himself for an arranged game with some of the city's platinum card holders and the phone rang. The call came from a chap struggling with the black dog of depression. Like many, he was self-medicating with whatever alcohol he could find.
He needed to talk and asked the quietly listening priest if he would come and see him at a coffee shop in a sketchy part of town. Like the pastoral soul he is known to be, the priest told him he'd be there in half an hour and called his golfing buddies to cancel, telling them, "Something has come up."
The retired sister had not heard from her goddaughter for months and knew something was wrong. She phoned her place of work and discovered the woman had been gone for six months. When she finally reached her goddaughter, she found the woman shaken, saying she was "at the point of giving up."
They kept in touch and she followed the nun's guidance to visit St. Thérèse of Lisieux's relics at the Millwoods church. She became homeless but kept searching for work. Finally, over their Christmas meal at a downtown restaurant, the goddaughter passed the sister a Christmas card and inscribed inside it said "I got the job."
Three vignettes in desperate people's lives. What would have happened if God's priests and sister had not been there to journey with them through their grief? Globally, there are no doubt millions of other stories similar to these.
Given this, this is a simple but profoundly true statement: We need priests, brother, sisters, nuns.
Even most secular science writings agree that, along with the expected proper nutrition, shelter and sense of belonging, every person needs a faith component to their life. Many deny it. But when midlife hits, that Peggy Lee song Is That All There Is? starts haunting us.
The wise ones answer this gnawing emptiness and begin their search often in bookstores, sometimes slipping into the back of a church of the faith they used to go to when they were young, often just starting to pray again.
Should they return to church, and many do, they start to look for a parish, a parish with a priest.
Yes, we need our spiritual leaders. So what should we do about this? After all, we are responsible for the society in which we live.
We plant seeds.
Look around and no doubt you can see the youngster, the youth, the single man or woman who has that certain something. You can't really put a word to it. But there is a sense of peace, a strength that comes from caring.
That's when you plant the seed with the young grad student, the Grade 6 altar boy, the quiet nurse.
"Have you ever thought of being a priest?" "Have you ever thought of being a sister?"
No doubt the question might startle them, depending on what their idea of a religious life is. Ideally, that is when you tell them the qualities you see in them that prompted you to say that to them.
Many times the best next step is to then just leave it alone. Let it percolate.
But if they seem intrigued and start asking questions about living a religious life, that's when you have answers that can at least start them on their discernment path. (It's called doing your homework.)
Here are some starting points.
As our beloved Pope Francis says, "The voice of Jesus is unique. If we learn to distinguish it, he will guide us on the path of life, a path that leads us even beyond the abyss of death."
(Lasha Morningstar firstname.lastname@example.org)