During Lent and the Year of Mercy, a friar describes an incident that inspired him. He urges us to look around and “see where we can help Jesus as he has been helping us.”
Over the past three decades, as I’ve given missions, retreats and other talks at parishes around the country, I have encountered many people. Many had stories to share, and some had a lasting impact on me. One tale, though described to me in an informal setting, stays with me to this day and has relevance to this season.
I met Joe Fountain in Rhode Island, after the 10 a.m. Mass in Coventry. I was there giving a parish mission. When catechism classes met after the Sunday Mass, the friars would visit the classrooms to show our faces and our habits to the kids and answer questions — topics like “What are the three knots in your cords for?”, and “Don’t your feet get cold?” Nothing seriously challenging our grasp of theology. The other friar and I split up, he taking the even-numbered grades and I, the odd.
So, I came to the third grade.
There were not one, but two husky fellows teaching a group of maybe 20 little boys and girls. Their names: Jack Manning and Joe Fountain. At first, I wondered if perhaps I had stumbled on a group of 20 unruly terrorists.
But everything went fine.
On Monday evening, after the mission talks, I went to the church hall for the coffee and cookies gathering. That is where I really got to meet Joe Fountain. I asked him why that class needed two husky guys like him and Jack.
Joe told me that he had volunteered to teach catechism, but that he was the problem, not the kids. He said he was scared to teach the faith to them. He had asked his buddy Jack to share the job.
Joe had volunteered because of something that had happened a few years ago to his baby daughter, Elise, now a third grader in his classroom.
Joe and his wife, after work, on a snowy afternoon eight years ago, had bundled up the baby and gone grocery shopping. Returning home with their bags of food, his wife took one bag of groceries and went to unlock the door and turn on the lights, asking Joe to bring the baby and the other bags. Putting the baby on the living room rug, he noticed a paper clip nearby and thought he would remove it when he returned from the kitchen to take off the baby’s snowsuit.
When he returned, the paper clip was gone. Elise’s face was deep red, beginning to turn black. Joe grabbed the baby, opened her mouth. No paper clip! Elise’s eyes bulged and her face became even darker.
Joe, thrusting the baby up toward the ceiling, shouted: Jesus, help me! Elise gave a feeble cough, and out popped a paper clip.
Joe, who for several years had not been active in the Church, swore that he would help Jesus, just as Jesus had helped him. He volunteered to teach catechism and to do what he could wherever he was needed.
During Lent, take a look around and see where we can help Jesus as He has been helping us.
— Fr. Roderic, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla., professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1953. He retired last month after working for 32 years as a member of the HNP Ministry of the Word.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal theme — are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The newsletter’s previous seasonal reflection, by Joseph Juracek, OFM, titled “The Joy of Simplicity,” was published Feb. 24.
- “Stories to Franciscan Life: Fr. Roberic Petrie” — HNP.org
- “Ministry of the Word Friars Gather for Annual Meeting” — March 19, 2014, HNP Today