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St. John the Evangelist

by Fr. Jerome Molokie, O.Praem.

 

Thinking on needing to preach on St. John the Evangelist, a story I had read in one of Fr. Groeschel’s books on spirituality came to mind, which I now share with you:

When I arrived at the Capuchin novitiate in Santa Inez I was met by the novice master, Fr. Marian, with the words, “We have a saint with us.” He referred to Father Isidore Kennedy, who had been born in Drombane, County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1897, and who was about seventy-three years old at that time.  Being a saint-watcher, I immediately went to work and arranged to sit next to this man who looked every bit a saint, slender with at white beard and a charming smile. I learned that he had just been released from the hospital after a stay of several weeks “to get his lungs dried out.” Hospitals had greatly improved over the years, he assured me, and he had a “grand” visit; “they were so lovely to me.” I learned that this had been his sixty-sixth hospitalization since he had contracted tuberculosis as a very young friar in his teens. I learned, by asking several of the questions of a saint-watcher, that he felt that each of his assignments had been an improvement over the one before. He had indeed usually been stationed alone in little desert towns where he said he had never been lonely…because of the Blessed Sacrament.

Amid pleasant conversation peppered with riddles and jokes and the etymology of Irish names, I learned that he had accepted the certainty of death at the age of eighteen and that, when he had not died, he had decided to give the rest of his life as a gift from God in conformity to the divine will as it was shown to him. I learned that in all those years he had never complained; indeed he had experienced great joy. His minister provincial, Father Enda, revealed to me the odd fact that “he had always been perfectly obedient, but that he had also always done his own thing,” which was praying and caring for the poor. The little cabins which he had for rectories became shelters for the tumbleweeds of the west. I learned that now that he was retired, he spent several hours every day sitting quietly in the chapel in profound recollection. I was bold enough to take a seat behind him one day and discovered that his back did not touch the bench and that he was breathing at a very slow rate. He seemed to be oblivious of all sights and sounds, although if he were assigned to answer the phone or the door, he would immediately respond. The novices referred to this profound recollection as “Izzy’s trip.”

On my last day at Santa Inez the core of this hidden life was to be laid bare and I was to hear what I believe is the best description of the unitive way I have ever heard. When Father Isidore came to confess, I was literally awestruck by the humility and innocence of this man and begged him to sit down. I asked him for the secret of his life. He at first denied that he had a secret, but after some coaxing I got him to understand that I was interested in how people prayed. His answer, which I did not reveal until after his death on October 1, 1973, contains, I think the experience of transforming union. “Well, my secret, if you want to call it that, is not much. It is just sort of…an imagination that comes to me when things aren’t just up to the mark. It’s come to me since I got sick as a lad, and it comes now often in the day. Whenever I stop to think about it, it seems to me that I have spent my entire life sitting in the place of St. John at the Last Supper.”

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