Throughout Lent, the office of Evangelisation and Catechesis are delighted to offer weekly stories of accompaniment & the Hope, Faith, Joy, and Love of Christ from the lay faithful of our diocese in the journey of Missionary Discipleship.
The first reflection is by Fr Jon Bielawski.
Every year, in or around the time of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is Valentine’s Day. For many, it is a light-hearted day when someone may receive a card or two from an admirer. For others it is a more serious opportunity to express their love for someone.
Aware of this context, several of us have taken the opportunity to pass on the ultimate message of love that comes from the Lord himself. Armed with a handful of Valentine’s Day cards scripted with, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer:31,3), and including a prayer that asks to understand a love that is, “steadfast and true and will never leave me broken hearted”, we head off into our local towns or city centres.
This year I decided to spend an hour at this task approaching people with a cheery: “Hello, did you receive a Valentine’s Day card today?” As you can imagine, responses varied, but most were amiable and humorous, paving the way for me to hand them one of our special cards.
I noticed an elderly man sitting on a bench watching the world go by and enjoying the sunny day. I felt the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to go to him. He accepted the card and together we engaged in some general and light-hearted conversation.
Like me, he was born and bred in Plymouth. He had worked in the dockyard in the era of no health and safety with regards to working with asbestos and so was living with a serious lung condition as a result. He was approaching his 80th birthday and had been married and had a family but was now living in sheltered accommodation. Despite his age, his frame indicated a strong, athletic build and this tied in with a past additional occupation of being a “doorman” at one of the first nightclubs in the city. A picture was forming of a colourful character in front of me. As I listened, I asked the Holy Spirit to lead us into some “faith talk” I noticed then a Cross and chain tattooed on his wrist. I asked him why he had that done. I did not get an in-depth reason for this choice of tattoo, but he did talk about being baptised in the local Anglican church.
We had established quite a rapport by now but as the conversation was drawing to a natural end, I referred again to the Valentine’s Day card and the message it contained. At this point I took the step of asking if I could say a prayer for him. He had no problem with this and so I prayed for his health, a thank you for his nearly 80 years of life and for him to have a deep sense of the loving presence of Jesus in his life. We shook hands and went our separate ways.
Unsensational as this encounter may seem, I reflected, as always, on the conversation. I felt the Lord was showing me two things. Firstly, in a routine day for an elderly gentleman an unusual conversation had arisen, a message conveyed, and a prayer offered, that could have been the very thing he needed. Secondly, it is not the dramatic nature of an encounter that is important but the invisible work of the Holy Spirit that counts.
Fr. Jon Bielawski has been a priest for 32 years. He heads up the department of Evangelisation and Catechesis for the diocese and is co-founder of Genesis Mission for the formation of Missionary disciples. You can hear more of Fr Jon’s encounters here https://podcast.genesismission.co.uk/
If you would like to engage in the diocesan formation for Missionary Disciples email Jonathan.email@example.com