Pastor, Priest and Providence

Recently, I had an experience during an hour-long flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte that I could have only dreamed of that I’d like to share with you. It was another of the myriad of moments in one’s life of the providential working of God in arranging divine appointments for His own:

Ellen and I had just gotten settled into our assigned seats when a young, tall and slender gentleman, dressed in the attire of a Catholic priest, sat down in the aisle seat that was vacant beside me. He had barely gotten into his seat before I said, “Hi, are you a Friar or a priest?”  I guess I thought he was a Friar (though I really did not know for sure what a Friar was) because of his white outer garment, and he replied that he was a priest. From that first exchange for one hour until we landed in Charlotte, the priest and the pastor communicated continuously with each other, tackling the whole gamut of theological issues, both practical and Biblical.  We talked about translations, inspiration, the Reformation and Martin Luther, about the great commission, about mass, preaching, the confessional booth, Catholic history and the beginning of the church. He was very transparent, did not have a “know it all” attitude, was polite, engaging and interested in what I believed and why.  It was a totally two-way exchange and when it was all over, I paused to pray, thanking God for His providentially placing the two of us together.

He was off the plane quite a while before Ellen and I could gather up our things and make it to the concourse, and I was surprised to see him waiting there until we made it to where he was.  We both had connecting flights to get to so I figured that he was gone as we had pretty much said farewell to each other upon landing.  But there he was, waiting patiently for us to ask us our name, thank me for the conversation and to in turn give us his name. He was kind and considerate of a couple of old folks and we were glad to be able to get his name with the hope of continuing our dialogue via the internet. I had, of course, shared with him that I had pastored in Indy a Baptist Church for 40 years. During the conversation I was able to share how the Baptists became known as Baptists and that our spiritual heritage predated the Reformation though we were not always called Baptists but were part of the “anabaptists” during the time of the Reformation, a label put upon those who rejected infant baptism and tenaciously held to baptism of believers by immersion and that “anabaptists” was what we were called in derision by the Reformers.

At one point in our hour-long conversation, I had mentioned that I had just been diagnosed with myeloma. It was an incidental piece of information and he expressed his empathy for my health situation and our conversing was off on another path.  But later as we talked, I said to the young priest, “So, I am a member of your parish and I have just learned that I have cancer that will, sooner or later, claim my life. I come to you and ask, ‘I am dying of cancer and I want to make sure that I am ready to meet God.’ What would your answer be?”

He paused for a brief while then, as best that I can recall, said something to the effect that he would assure me that God is love and that God loves me.  He referred to I John 4 and alluded to John 3:16, but did not expand on either of those passages and gave no clear answer to the question. I was able to share with him the testimony of a member of our church who was reared in a strict Catholic home, believing in God from his youth and as best that he knew trusting in Jesus, yet never growing in his faith or grace just because of lack of teaching. One day this devoutly reared Catholic visited his priest with some basic questions and was rebuffed and summarily dismissed by the priest.  Undaunted in his quest for a personal relationship with God, he continued to read the Bible, searching the scriptures, desiring to know more of God and coming to know Christ personally in his own home with his own open Bible that he was earnestly reading and rereading. One day, someone told him he should visit Thompson Road Baptist Church.  He did and he has attended faithfully for years with his wife, also a Catholic by birth, but a believer by the New Birth.

Back to my new found friend. I just today listened to an interview that another priest conducted with this young Dominican priest just before he was going to be ordained a “deacon” in May of 2020. It was an extensive interview in which he was asked a variety of questions and he did most of the talking, sharing how and when he made the decision to enter the priesthood and unfolding the journey of seven years that he was finishing up. It was interesting and compelling and I also listened to a brief homily that he had given from a passage in Amos. I don’t think any honest, fair-minded person who had listened to this young man share his heart would think he was anything but genuine. Often, after such an experience, one asks “Do you think he/she is really saved?” Well, only God knows that of course. I do think many Catholics have responded to the light that they have been exposed to and no doubt many who have simply put their trust in Jesus will be saved. The danger, of course, is that they are trusting their being a member of the Catholic Church or trusting in their participation weekly, or even daily, in the mass which is in their thinking the pinnacle of the practicing of their Catholic faith. Some, though, in spite of the system, will be, in my thinking, in heaven because they have trusted in Jesus as Savior.

I have lots more to share, but I must wrap this up. Please pray with me for this young man. I really believe he is open to truth. He asked me some serious questions and was attentive and engaging with his responses to what I was explaining.  I hope I can share more of our future dialogue in another installment of “You and God,” and, in the meantime, let us all be alert for an opportunity to respond to a providential meeting, arranged for us by God as He did when the pastor and the priest opened their hearts one to another, over an open Bible, high above the earth one beautiful winter morning.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (I Pet.3:15)

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