by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
I just woke from a curious dream. Allow me to recount it:
I recall telling myself I went to bed too early. "That’s why you aren’t sleepy." So I resettled instead at my desk, when I heard a knock on the door. Rarely does a fellow priest knock at my door; when he does, it may be to deliver a piece of mail or inform me that mealtime has changed. I opened it expectantly, because it was after midnight, and there was no cause for any such announcements to be made at this hour. A monk shrouded in a brown cowl stood there, his hooded cloak pulled about the face and hands. “I just want to pray,” he said in a clipped manner with an Italian accent. “May I come in?”
I had no idea who this was. I demurred. “Who are you? How’d you get in here?” He pulled back the hood, revealing the bearded visage of an older man. His hands fell exposed and I noticed they were covered with a red cloth. He didn’t answer me directly but repeated his request to come in and pray.
“If you’d like,” I said, “I can take you down to the chapel. But this is where I study and sleep. Why would you want to pray in here?”
“There are terrible things going on in the world,” he replied. “I want to ask for help averting them.”
He lifted his head and his large eyes focused on mine. They burned fervently with a goodness that could not be hidden. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place the face with a name, so I continued to hesitate. He had a soft, sweet candy like smell that reminded me of flowers.
I couldn’t rightly deny him, but it was awfully odd for someone I didn’t know to appear at my door wanting to come in and pray. I stood aside and motioned him in, pointing to a chair. He came in and knelt down instead before the crucifix. With head bowed, he began repeating how helpless he was and would the Lord assist him in need. I couldn’t help but feel moved over this scene, but wasn’t able to figure his name, or why he wanted to pray here, or even how he got into the rectory at this hour.
I sighed quietly and sat down in my chair. All would be made known, the thought came to me. So I waited while he prayed, when I also felt the need to join him with my own prayers, though I couldn’t help but watch this curious friar. His visage looked severe, like he was quietly debating a serious issue in his mind. His breath was raspy; all else was quiet.
I got up and poured a glass of water, not knowing what else to do, and offered it to him. He paused his tense attendance and graciously nodded, took the glass and drank from it.
“In answer to your question, I came here to pray for you,” he said. His eyes considered my confusion, and a gentle smile came to his lips. “It is only because I felt you could use the help,” he shrugged. “Satan is loose and roaming the city this evening.”
“Satan always seems to be roaming these days,” I replied, but in spite of my pressing questions and uncertainty, I managed a smile in reply.
The monk’s head bowed again, and then he motioned like he was going to stand. I got up and offered him my hand. He didn’t take it, but reached for my arm instead and raised himself to his feet.
“I must go,” he said; “there are others in also in need of prayer.”
Impulsively, I knelt and asked for his blessing. His cheeks reddened a bit, as he held back a smile.
“May the Lord bless you with love, joy and peace,” he made a sign of the cross over me, “that you may bring honor and glory to his holy name.”
I tried to stand to show him the way out but he waved my effort away. “I will show myself out.” He opened the door, when I noticed the rosary he left behind and jumped up to take it to him. But there was no one in the hall. Only a faint odor lingered--violets blossoming at his departure. Whoever he was, I felt like the blessing was taking effect and that a protective aura somehow surrounded me. I went back into my room and lay down, but before falling fast asleep, I whispered: “Good night, whoever you are. Thank you for your prayers!”
The light in my room suddenly turned on. He was standing at the door again. “I didn’t come here just for you, though I really need to get back now.” He shifted from one foot to the other, smiling. “Have courage and do not fear. You will replace me, and must now pray for others who will need someone to pray for them.”
At that I felt his rosary round my wrist which I’d wrapped there unconsciously. It didn’t seem odd or frightening that he popped back in so suddenly, if only to disappear again. My back was hurting and I felt hungry as I shifted back onto my pillow, smiling though reluctant to thank him again audibly lest he return with some other message, yet grateful that he thought me worthy of such a task. This is now something I feel the need to share, and encourage you to do what I've been asked to do: to pray for others who do not know how badly prayers are needed for them. Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this: he would like to ask you to do the same. Have courage and do not fear! And if he stops by to visit you, or better, when he does, thank him for both of us. It will do your heart good to see his cheery cherub smile.