Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Newly Ordained and Meeting Arnold

THIS MUG BELONGED TO ARNOLD DE PAUL  who was a parishioner in my first parish where I was a curate or junior-assistant priest thirty-five years ago. Arnold was middle-aged, deaf and mute and would often come to church, not to weekday Mass, but simply to visit. Our paths would cross when I'd be on a church errand; I'd find him kneeling at the foot of the large crucifix on the side wall or at the communion rail.

Arnold made sounds which I couldn't distinguish as words. I expect my own anxieties got in the way, such that it never occurred to me to sit him down to see if he could write or read lips. A foolishly missed opportunity. We communicated only through smiles, handshakes and hugs. In this world of lonely alienation perhaps that is more than he received elsewhere. 

In the spring a senior Washington official died who had a home in the parish. President and Mrs. Reagan flew in for the funeral, the bishop celebrated the funeral Mass, the choir sang, there was a police escort for the lengthy procession to the cemetery, the candles burned and the flowers (like the accolades) were abundant. Like a potted palm, I stood in the sanctuary corner and watched.

A few weeks later Arnold died.  I was told to "do his funeral Mass" which pleased me. Arnold's casket was the cheapest, called a doeskin box because of the soft cloth covering designed to conceal the knots in the wood. The only worshipers were his two out-of-town sisters, the undertaker, the cantor, organist and myself. There were no speeches, no flowers and only the two required candles on the altar.

At the end of the Mass I spoke with the sisters for a few moments, briefly telling them how Arnold and I knew each other. They said they'd be around for a week or so, clearing out his apartment before heading back to their own homes. I asked them if they came across some little thing of his that they could let go of, might I have it to remember him by. 

A few days later this mug, wrapped in plain paper, was left for me at the rectory office. There was a note inside the mug telling me that some years prior Arnold had gone on retreat to the French-founded Trappist abbey-monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The monks either made the mugs themselves or imported them from a monastery in France.

The mug is curious of course because it has two handles. A little investigation disclosed that French babies learn to drink from cups with two handles, making it easier to hold on tight with both hands. The monks retained this image to remind them of their own littleness and weakness. To "Become like little children" Jesus said, acknowledging being loved in one's dependent vulnerability. 

St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of living in her convent with twenty or so other women, "Sometimes I feel as if I am living inside a volcano." I get it, living in this polarized, often contentious, sometimes mean-spirited Church.  But in the midst of that I met Arnold. I'm thinking gratefully: how is it that in this life, with all of its vagaries, for seconds in each of our life's story, Arnold's path and my path crossed. I witnessed his prayer born of vulnerability and struggle.

And over thirty-five years of priesthood (today being the anniversary of ordination) that kind of wondrous intersecting has been played out over and over again. That witnessing has been the best part of my priesthood.


  1. Thank you for your reflections. Blessings on you anniversary!

  2. All these years later, you may be the only person who remembers this poor soul. How blessed is his spirit that his memory lives on in you and now us.

  3. Father, what a beautiful post, thank you. I am so very grateful you were chosen for priesthood and I'm so very grateful our paths have crossed, I will pray a prayer of gratitude on this special day of yours.

  4. Congratulations Father Morris. We love reading your blog and wish you many more years of a blessed priesthood. You are nurture my faith and spiritual path and I am grateful to have found you if even from afar.

  5. A lovely story of remembrance. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your anniversary. May your journey continue to be as fruitful. You have touched many lives.

  6. There were no flowers and speeches when Jesus died but finally there was peace just as there was for Arnold.
    You are a good priest and I hope you will find peace today knowing you have tried your best for the love of Jesus and Mary. Blessings!

  7. Congratulations on your Anniversary Father Morris. How does it feel to be a priest today compared with being a new priest thirty-five years ago? Are you glad that you followed this vocation in life? How do you know that you can give up the idea of having a wife and children. I am sincerely interested in your response as I have posed this question to several priests while considering a vocation to religious life.

    1. This is strange, I did respond to your request but perhaps my reply ended up under a different post. Anyway, I don't think the fundamental question is about marriage. The real issue to be addressed is our selfishness. But that is to recognized whatever one's life commitment - the potential father or mother must ask it as well. The question is: Am I prepared to grow through my selfishness and that can be a very great struggle indeed. Many people think themselves to much less selfish than they are. If you would like to speak further and more privately (as these posts are read far and wide) feel free to contact me