14 June 2012

Writing in German

A very sweet, humble lady I know from somewhere in the First World of nations telephoned me and asked me if I would help her write a letter to the Holy Father... in German.  

She had prayed devoutly for me during my long illness, phoning to see how I was doing, having candles lit for me, and Holy Masses said for me.  I really could not recall how we had become friends, but she had heard a sermon of mine whilst visiting Scotland long ago and felt a strong connexion.  

Like me she eventually left the Anglican Communion for the Catholic Church, and over the years she kept in touch especially as we came to live closer to each other for a time.  She spoke German well enough, but she wanted the written words to the Holy Father to be precise and spelt correctly.  It was also an occasion to reminisce about happy days in the past, Evensong and Supper with Lady Aberdeen, meeting unexpectedly in the British Church in Lisbon, Portugal after 9/11, meeting intentionally one evening in Jerusalem...

I helped her write the letter over the phone though saddened by what it revealed.  She had tried to get an appointment with "an important member of the clergy" because she wanted to give a financial gift for something new going on that she believed in.  She could never get an appointment.  She said a man she took to be an assistant asked her why would she want to see this august individual in a tone that was very off-putting.  She did not mention money, but kindly said she had something to offer and would like to meet with him.  

The unknown man told her she could not have a meeting with him unless she said exactly why she wanted to see him.  She said that she didn't know with whom she was speaking and wasn't about to tell him a private matter.  She was told flatly that she could not have an appointment, and that was that.

She told the Holy Father in her letter that this had happened every time she had tried to approach a bishop or a member of a bishop's curia ... the same with the heads of some new movements in the Church.  Having experienced this myself, I know that unless you are a known commodity, a public person, or a person of known wealth you will have little success in attempting to cross the moat to see the king.  I told her I did know of one great exception to that general rule.  In my experience it was Daniel Cardinal di Nardo, the great Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.  She said that she would tuck that thought away.  

She had once tried to contact his predecessor about giving a gift for the Cathedral Basilica in Galveston (at my suggestion, before I was Catholic), but even being specific about what she had wanted to do the member of his curia with whom she spoke was not interested in seeing the money go there but wanted it only for another project.  She passed on what he offered.  It was a sort of UFO shaped Cathedral and she wanted nothing to do with it.

She was very keen to name names from her recent experiences, but I advised a different approach that would perhaps open the door so she could say something to someone well placed.  So we wrote the letter in a more general way, and she said that because a certain part of the Holy Father's Church didn't want to receive her, she would like to give the Holy Father $2.5 million dollars for a worthy project to help the Church where it was doing something new and bold for the New Evangelisation.  We finished the letter.  She said she had a friend who would take it to Rome and get it as far as it would go.

She called me three days later to say that she had had a phone call from Rome from a certain Body... she wasn't specific.  They told her about a very special project that was a fundamentally a centre through which the New Evangelisation could be taken to a greatly deprived area in a forgotten part of the world.  She said they offered to name a hospital and a new training centre after her.  She was so grateful just to get the phone call even if it was only because she had mentioned "filthy money".  

She had been able to confirm the legitimacy of the offer with a call to a friend at a College in Rome, and so she had had the money wired to where it was needed.  She only had a few stipulations one of which was  nothing would be named after her but rather would be named for a particular female saint to whom she had a great devotion.

This lady lives in a tiny house in a tidy but simple neighbourhood.  She drives a weathered old car.  Her clothing is neat and plain.  She wears little jewelry except for something Catholic around her neck.  She volunteers at a sort of St. Vincent de Paul shop.  No one has a clue about the wealth her husband left her when he died, and that is the way she has wanted it ... precisely the way he had lived.  

She didn't want priests and bishops cozying up to her because she had money and property.  If it wasn't enough to meet with her face to face so they could hear her offer, they wouldn't get a penny.  And because no one locally would meet with her over a period of years, her generous donations were spread out in small gifts to thousands of Catholic convents, monasteries, radio stations, a Catholic television network and a few orders like the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King who had been the very Compassion of Jesus to her at the death of her son in France in one case and a daughter in the other.

She had made this Body in Rome that phoned her promise two things in writing.  The first was that they would divulge her name to no one.  The second is that she would consider another project of theirs if they would take a letter directly to the Holy Father.  (I was not involved in this and don't know if solicitors were involved but I would suspect so.)  The 'Body' in Rome were more than happy to do so.  And I found myself helping her with another letter to the Holy Father that she intended to staple on top of the original letter.  

In this one she expressed the hope that he would school all of the bureaucracies in the Church on the proper reception of the gifts of the laity -- something very near and dear to my heart I admit.  We will see if anything comes of it.  Sadly, money talks, and no one seems much interested in the possibility of entertaining angels unawares... especially if said angel is very human, small, frail, elderly, and female with bluish tinged hair.

I asked her permission to tell this story here if I kept it so, so vague no one would no who she was or where she lived in the world.  She heard me read it out over the phone and gave her approval.  Like her I can never get an appointment, but unlike her as a lay hermit I have no money.  She reminded me of an occasion when I would not accept money from her for a church planting project I was involved in because I valued her friendship and didn't want it clouded with thoughts of her as a benefactor.  With that she decided that I was the rarest and strangest man of the cloth she had ever met.  We laughed.  

She told me that she had secretly donated money through the Episcopal Diocese for the project but came to believe that her money had been stolen by the Diocesan treasurer -- oh yes, him -- when she learned that I had had to put some $30,000 of bills on my personal credit cards when he wouldn't come up with the promised funds. She was saddened to learn that said Diocese had never reimbursed me, but I had long given up on any sort of justice in that situation.  

"There are times when the best thing is to walk away from an evil situation and leave the minions in their mire," she opined and I agreed.  

I said, "After all he was later arrested for an embezzling crime although it was long after I had told a certain bishop about what I had observed going on."  She thought for a second.  "I believe it is your father who always tells you that the bearer of bad tidings gets skewered."  How she remembered that was beyond me, but it prompted a good chuckle.  "That was the bishop who fired you when you were in your hospital bed after the stroke?"  Yes, I replied.

She said she hoped this story would be a productive cautionary tale at several levels ... for the benefit of the three people who bother to read my blog.   

Oh, it is good to laugh with an old friend.

+Salve Regina!