It happened one day last July while I sat on a bench at nearby Sandymount Strand. I was
enjoying the view across Dublin Bay when a man with a small white curly-haired poodle-mix
came by and sat down. “Do you mind if I sit here for a few moments, I’m tired?” “Welcome
to the club. What’s this little guy’s name?” I asked, as the dog checked out my footwear.
“Sylvester, and I’m Sean.” After we chatted aimlessly for a few of minutes he turned to look
at me and asked, “Are you a priest?” “What made you ask me that?” “Oh I don’t know; I just
had a hunch,” he said. And Sylvester leaped to his lap.
We chatted on about religion and churches and then he was curious to know where I say
Mass and what I preach about on Sundays. “I sometimes bring up the question ‘Who is Jesus
Christ for you?’” After a silent moment or two Sean said something like: “Yeah. That’s a
tough one. I’d have to think about that “, he said quietly. “Do you think he is still alive?” I
asked. “The church says he is in the communion host, so I suppose he’s alive in that sense.”
“What do you think?” he asked, “Do you think he is still alive?” I said nothing for a moment.
Sylvester was on Sean’s lap and looking excitedly at the kids playing on the beach below us.
“Look at those kids enjoying themselves”, I said, “and look at the vastness of the sea, the
clouds and the sky, and Howth and the Bailey lighthouse way to the north. The whole scene
is almost like the face of God’s love for us all.” “I suppose when you’re a priest these things
remind you of God,” said Sean. “I’m not a religious person and I suppose I should try to get
Mass sometime instead of watching sport and reading the Sunday papers.” Sylvester got
down, came over to me and sniffed around before getting on my lap. “Father, could you
give him a blessing? It would be good for him.” Sean, like so many Irish Catholics, was
baptised as an infant and grew up as a dyed-in-the-wool cultural Catholic.
He said he conformed to society’s religious expectations until his neighbours and friends
gave up on it all and dropped out. “I kind of lost touch,” he said. “But I hearken to what the
media says about religion and the pope and all that.” Sean, like Zacchaeus in the gospel, had
a curiosity but, like many Catholics, he has never encountered Christ. I invited him back to
Sunday Mass, and he has come a couple of times. Like Zacchaeus, Sean is climbing down
from the tree, and I pray Jesus will make himself known to him one of these days in the
breaking of the bread, as he did when the new life of salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.
Fr. QQ – 10/27/2022