Fr. Hugh put down the biography of St. Francis he was reading. The part he had just read reminded him that conversion was an ongoing process, an ongoing calling. He needed to respond to the call of God to move deeper into a life of grace today and every day. At this point in his life he loved the daily call and the challenge to answer it.
He must be getting old he thought or tired. The many ways he had protected himself across his life from God’s call and from the invitation to conversion seemed to be gone. This arrogant thought initiated an old response. His old skeptical nature trained to believe in its own sinfulness quickly pushed that thought aside and demanded that he re-examine himself and figure out how he was avoiding conversion at this moment. He took a deep breathe and begun his examination of conscience. This activity had become the daily practice of his life in his years of sobriety and was the hallmark of his personal spirituality. As it often had in recent months, his examination quickly brought him to consider Catie Jo.
He had let her go down a road that now was proving to be a big journey for a little girl. She was fine with it. Her family was concerned but didn’t blame him. The fear about her chosen path was mainly his.
Why was he afraid?
In solitude he examined that question and gradually a picture formed in front of him that he didn’t like. He imagined a woman who was a bad priest. This was the ugliest thing he could imagine. In spite of years as the leading liberal in the Diocese, he was not comfortable with the idea of a woman being a priest. He often said that if people feared male priests on a power trip, they should just imagine what a woman would be like.
He felt the cold recognition of personal error that years of spiritual practice now forced him to acknowledge. Here was a bias that was all his. His fear about women priests was about himself and his fear of the seduction of power.
For years he had lived to pursue the power that being a priest and a spiritual authority made possible. People loved him and the gentle authority his words had and the sense of God’s presence that he brought with him. He always had a following and people demanding that he be an active part of their lives. This was a seductive power and one that had made him dream of holding an authority to change his world. He would be a Bishop, as President of the college, or at least as a monsignor.
Desiring to be a monsignor was an old joke to him. After he sobered up, he used this ambition from his drinking days to mock the longing for power in his midlife that had made him an alcoholic. The contradiction between spirituality and the ascension to power had driven many priests to the bottle. He realized now that it was an occupational hazard. A hazard that many men in his lifetime had failed to avoid.
He had been lucky. He tried to hide from the contradiction by drinking, but the people who loved him wouldn’t let it happen. Twice he had been called to account by his friends and after the second time in treatment, he had found the ability to let go of the grasp for power and to be content with spiritual service in humble ministry.
He loved women too much to see them have to go through this struggle. He watched the young women he had taught over the years move into positions of authority and struggle with the aspects of power that seemed contrary to their nature.
He caught himself in another bias. Power was only contrary to the nature of women as he saw it and had been trained to see it. Did he not have faith in these young women that he loved to believe that they could do better than he had? The woman athletes that were a special part of his ministry recognized this bias in him and teased him about it. They assured him that they could do better than any guy and they would, no question about it.
This line of spiritual thought brought him to reflect on Mary. Long ago he had stopped seeing her as mother but as sister. In his spiritual imagination she looked like a college basketball player capable of loving him and accusing him of being a crusty old man at the same time. “Get overyourself,” Mary challenged. “That is the only need for conversion that you have.”
His spiritual reverie was interrupted by a knock at his door. Who was ignoring the “Don’t disturb” sign on his office door? He was ready to express his annoyance but when he opened the door, it was Catie Jo bearing two MacDonald sacks inviting him to lunch on the steps of St. Charles.
“How could I say no,” he told her and they walked together to a lunch that they ate looking down on the Westside of Helena and up to Mt. Helena.
“How are you handling the latest uproar,” he asked her.
She was actually sorry she had embarrassed the Bishop again. She should of kept quiet, but he had asked for people to help him in his sermon. She didn’t know it was being filmed and anyway she had asked a good question and it would be good for someone to tell the whole truth about things going on. No one did that enough. Now everyone wanted to talk to her. She might even be on a TV show. She said she kind a thought that maybe it was part of a plan that God had to let her help the Church.
Hugh laughed at his fears for the undaunted young girl in front of him. “What gave you the idea that to get lunch today.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” she said. “It was their idea.”
Hugh asked who they were.
“Well, my two buds of course, and Mary, V and King Mel.”
“V and King Mel?” he asked.
“You know. V, the good priest, whose altar is in Borromeo.”
“Ok, that’s John Vianney, but Mel?”
Catie Jo laughed, “You know, the old priest. He knows you well enough.”
Later that day, Fr. Hugh decided to celebrate his latest conversion. He stopped off at his travel agent downtown and asked for 6 tickets to Rome: one for himself, 4 for her parents and brothers, 1 for Catie Jo. As he purchased the tickets, he felt like for once in his life he was purposely following the order of Melchisedek.