|Egy papi élet állomásai / Stages of a priest\\\'s life
József VINCZE: Stages of a priest's life
"If you are not accepted somewhere and are not listened to, go away from there, and as a charge against them, shake even the dust from your feet" (Mark 6:11)
I am reading my Bible. I stop at the sentence above. I, too, feel that the Lord sends me, since I have been his disciple for a long time. But what does it mean, that if I am not listened to I shall go away from there? Should I also go in the case, that only a few people listen to my preaching of the Word? There is no completely pagan place. i am just going to be ordained now, I will try to keep Jesus' command word by word.
On the little icon for my first mass ((on their first mass Catholic priests share little icons with a sentence from the Bible between people who attend the mass and between their acquirantes, friends, family members)) I wrote this sentence from Mark. The scandal is widespread. I should rather have written a good-sounding, high sentence, but this was what gripped me most.
I do not like ceremony and confusion, though the ordination and the first mass were like that. I wait for my bishop's letter, which will tell me where I will be placed.
It arrives. I get to Moneyhof. An old priest is the parson here. I will be his helper. There live 3-4 thousand people in the village. Just by looking at the houses they seem to be very wealthy. I have simple furniture in my room and no TV, only a radio that I got from my ex-classmates as a present for my first mass.
The parsonage we live in has several floors and is new. It does not stick out from the other nice houses. Inside there are Persian carpets, plants and flowers. You can walk in there only in slippers. I wonder if everyone must do so, no matter what official cases he came to arrange? A little room on the first floor is mine. In it there is a telephone and answering equipment. I do not even need to go to the office when i want to phone someone.
With my parson, we visited some families. We have been in fascinating, marvellous houses. The colourful television, the computer, the video, the Hi-fi tower, the microwave and the dishwasher are unususl nowhere. I was disturbed to experience that the beginning and the end of each conversation was money: who earns how much, where money goes, how expensive things are, and no one was satisfied with his fate. The thought that giving, generosity and poverty, taught by Jesus, should be emphasized more here grew stronger and stronger within me. I knew very well, that for this I first have to get to know them.
My first preachings were about Jesus' teaching in general. There were many children coming to the religious education classes. We went on hikes and played games together. They quickly got to love me. I could get on well also with the adults. I enjoyed myself. There was only one thing I missed. I still have not been able to tell those things from Jesus' teaching which I was urged by my conscience to tell.
I had been at Moneyhof for more than a year. Many wanted to give me their used colourful television set and video when they bought a new one. I accepted none of them. I knew that was impossible to talk about poverty while being wealthy. I wanted to live simply. Differently from people in the village.
I spoke more and more brave from the pulpit. The audience in the church was shocked to hear that more than hundred thousand people die of hunger daily, and in how acute poverty more than half of mankind lives. Most of the lonely old people who lived in the village were poor. They were the only ones who had thatched houses. Some gipsy families lived here as well. They did not have nice and big houses either, for they could not handle money.
In one of my preachings I suggested bringing something to the poorests of the village next Sunday: a plate of cookies, some breaded cutlets or money. Then they could feel that even though they are not rich because of their age and retirement, they are respected in the village.
In the evening, at home I thought, maybe I told it on a wrong way. What if piles of cookies and cutlets will cover the tables of the poor people? Won't they be angry with me about it?
There went about 200-300 people to church each Sunday. I looked forward to the next Sunday. I thought I would visit the poor on Monday bringing to them those little things that I had prepared for them. Monday morning I curiously went to the poorest old lady. She accepted me with great joy. I looked around excited in the room if there were cookies or any food. I could not see any. The old lady told me that nobody had visited her for months. Everybody is busy. I asked hinting if anybody had brought anything to her. She waved her hand resignedly. That had been a long time ago when neighbours shared the pies for Sunday with each other.
Afterwards I visited all the poor people. The result: I was their only visitor. I got very discouraged. First I thought I would go away from this village at once. At home I calmed a bit down. You can not expect success from the first try.
But still I was curious. I asked some people - the most persistent visitors of the church - why they had not brought anything to the poor of the village.
- They are not even poor!
- They pile their deposit instead of leading a good life.
- Why don't also they work more?
- We can not let them get used to it, because then they will always except it.
Some people forgot about it. Many said they were also poor. Others: we went on a weekend, we were hoeing, and so on.
I was very embittered.
On the international day of hungry people I came up with the idea on the pulpit: let us collect money for the hungry people of the world. The shock was great in the whole church. We appointed a collecting box for the hungry.
There were 3600 forints in it. There were a note of thousand, a note of five hundreds. I was very glad, that there were at least 2-3 people getting to understand Jesus' idea: if wealthy people helped the poor, there would not be poverty on the earth. Later we collected clothing - with little success. We collected spec frames (used) for sending to Ghana. There were so few, that I did not dare to send it to the centre.
On Sundays I told harder and harder examples for heartlessness. I did not let anybody doubt: for wealthy people - if they close their hearts from the poor - it is impossible to get to God's Kingdom. The atmosphere around me started to get frozen. More and more people rounded on me saying why I was disturbed by their wealth that they had got with the sweat of their faces. I told them I was not hurt by that, but by their heartlessness which came from worshiping money.
They criticized me that I too had a car and led a good life. After brooding through a night I decided to sell my car. It was natural, that I would send the money for it to the poor, but I would not proclaim it, none could say that I was boasting with it. The village hardly noticed that I was byking or going by feet. Anybody I told considered me a fool.
The last straw was when we had a worship of sacrament in the village. That had always been a big ceremony. I copied a note of thousand enlarged (it was about one meter long) and put it on the altar. I explained why: "My brothers, your lord and god is money, not Jesus and the real God. Therefore now you have to kneel down before this. You do it every day in any case." After these words I walked off the church.
If they had been brave enough they would probably have beaten me. They went to the bishop asking him to put me away, because I had mocked of the whole village.
Finally I performed a burial. The departed was a young man who had died of working too hard for money. I did not care to speak cautiously: "This young man could still live if money had not been his god", I started my speech. This occasion ended up in great anger and offendedness. The members of the family almost cheased me away.
I did not wait for my bishop's order. On Sunday in my preaching I told them: on my icon I wrote that where the preacher was not listened to, had to go away from. Therefore now I will also leave with the bitter feeling that I could not win anybody over to Jesus. And now I will not finish the mass because I do not want to show and give the sacrament for those who are only tickling their ears with Jesus' teaching.
After these words I put the chasuble on the altar, prayed in silence and walked out. In the church there was deep silence.
The van arrived. The driver helped me pack. Even my parson did not come to farewell me.
We were maybe half way in packing when a couple came who were among the richest people in the village. They came to church each Sunday. I got a bit scared: they probably came to tell me their damning opinion in no uncertain terms. They called me into the room. They were a bit awkward. The husband started talking. He said they had brooded a lot with his wife, but they had understood what I had wanted to teach about money according to Jesus. So they brought their saved money and asked me to send it to the poor. I did not want to believe my eyes and ears: they brought half million forint.
Tears came to my eyes. I embraced them. I felt very relieved and was joyful like a child. They helped us pack. I left Moneyhof singing. At least one family has understood Jesus.
The driver brought my new order along and we started towards Brandyhof...
I was ordered to be the parson of Brandyhof. My predecessor was gone for a sick leave. That was all I knew. I had not been there beforehand to get to know the place but the driver knew where to go.
We arrived. The van stopped in the front of a huge, dilapidated building. This was the parsonage. It was nicely cleaned by the women of the village.
About ten people were waiting for us in the court. We were soon done with packing, then they invited us into the kitchen. The table was laid, there was plenty of pog csa ((do you remember what that is, Sarah?)) and wine. We soon got involved into talking, the wine lessened quickly and the spirits were getting higher and higher. The corporation of the representatives started to sing. The wine ran out, it was getting late, but none of them was going to leave. Somebody suggested getting more wine from the pub opposite. I stood up, thanked them for their help and referring to the lots of work I went to my room.
Most of the representatives left quite unsteadily. I drank only half a glass of wine all evening, but I did not like it a bit.
Next day I heard in the shop: "We have got a jolly priest, there was singing on the parish till midnight. It seems he is like his predecessor."
Two days later there was a wedding. I was told I ought to go to the feast as well. So I did. There were hardly a few people even in the church already who were sober. The witnesses did not understand what they had to do during the ceremony. When I entered the house where the feast was, a few people exchanged glances. They sat next to me with wine bottles in their hands. They offered it to me over and over. I refused, and asked for soft drink. The people present caught each other's eye. The best man came. He said we must drink the new couple's health. I took my glass of Coke. He flared up: "Not with that!" and filled a glass with wine. I refused smiling. The best man's brow darkened. He said I hurt the feelings of the couple and the whole family if I do not drink their health. I answered I do not hesitate to drink anybody's health but only with Coke. He explained this is not proper, but I remained unyielding.
Then ornamented, nicely dressed ladies sat beside me. They complimented me saying that I am young and handsome and that they would like to dance with me. I refused, answering that I undertake to do only what I can. They kept persuading me: at least I must clink with them. I did it with Coke. One of them said: the dance of the bride I cannot avoid anyhow. ((A traditional dance started by the bride and the bridegroom who dance with each other; then everyone else joins in, and as they enter the dance they put some money into the bridegroom's hat. This is for collecting money for the new household.)) I did avoid for I said goodbye and left. The mothers of the couple lamented that I probably did not enjoy myself because my predecessor used to stay at the wedding till morning. They gave me a demijohn of wine, although I would have prefered a cake.
Next week I heard people gossiping: "This priest can't hold a candle to his predecessor. He doesn't like wine, he cannot have fun."
I had seen already: drinking is what ruins people in this village.
Brandyhof had 3 thousand inhabitants. There were 200 children who attended my religious education. I managed to fit in quite quickly. We went on hikes and played games with the children. They were glad to come to Sunday school and masses. As for the adults, there were about 3 or 4 hundred who came to the church on Sundays.
I had been on Brandyhof for two years already when the full distressing picture emerged to me. 60 % of the adults was slave to alcohol. I felt myself powerless. Although I was respected in the village, I did not know what to do.
One of the girls came beaten to the Sunday school. She told me that her father had been drunk and had beaten her dreadfully. I visited the family and talked to the father. When I mentioned the girl, he lost his temper and explained angrily that nobody is expected to interfere his family life.
One night the bell rang. As I opened the door, a mother stood there with her two sons - who wore pijamas - and asked me to accomodate the children for that night. Her drunk husband broke everything in their flat and threatened them to death.
I talked to that father as well. He accused me of starting an affair with his wife, this was why she felt safe in the parish. Hearing this I immediately sent him firmly out of the house.
I brooded a lot about how I could preach God's word here, while only very few people knew a basic sober life.
Since I had settled here, I had not accepted alcohol from anyone, nor offered it to those who visited me in the parish. I did not give alcoholic drinks to people as present and never bought them in the shop.
Because of this, however, I was considered even more of a crank. Once they invited me into the soccer group of the village. I accepted it with the ulterior notive: maybe I could help so that at least half of the group remain sober till the game started. But the alcohol was more effective than I was. Although generally playing went all right, in the group I was respected, a lot of people attended the game, I drank always only Coke in the pub - I could not solve the basic problem, the alcoholism.
The village sinked deeper and deeper. There were a lot of divorce, quarrelling, litigation, family tragedy.
It was more than three years for I had been there, when I felt it was time to speak sharply. I called the representatives of the parish church ((all the villages that belong to the same parson)) together and told them: those who regularly drink and has an always mixed up family life must not remain representatives. For this body is supposed to representate Jesus and it cannot be carried out toxicatedly.
There was a great indignation. Many of them went offended and avoided meeting me in the future. A few did not allow their children to Sunday school anymore. The situation was getting harder.
I preached sharply from the pulpit. I objected that there were many alcoholists among those who attended the church services, that even old ladies drank brandy like water. I told them who lived like this was not worth to take the Lord's Supper. Many people were shocked and scandalized hearing this.
Who confessed and admitted that he had been drunk several times I absolved only when he plighted his troth to avoid the alcohol.
But the situation went from bad to worse. I was not invited to weddings anymore and was not given alcohol as present.
I thought after sharp speaking now I would try to get on with nice words. On the Sunday mass I told people that we had formed the Alcoholic-saving Service. Anyone who felt that he was slave to alcohol could come. With love, understanding, comforting, Jesus' teaching we would try to help everybody.
Many people liked the idea but nobody came.
One day a firm woman came with her husband. She forced him to come in order to replace peace in the family. I said in vain that only volunteers should come, otherwise the Alcoholic-saving Service was no use.
Other day I visited all the pubs. I talked to the pub-keepers. I criticized them that they were interested only in their income not worrying about the consequences, the tragedies of the families. I asked all of them to help the Service by announcing that on certain days they did not serve alcoholic drinks. Great indignation was their answer. One of them even said: Jesus also drank wine on the wedding in Cana. I saw money and profit counted much more for them than saving their lost fellow men.
The owner of a coffee-bar accepted me very charitably. We talked almost through half an afternoon. He was understanding and promised to stop selling alcoholic drinks. So he did. I praised him from the pulpit. I said: Here among the owners of pubs and inns he is the only one who has humane feelings, who understood Jesus' word: we have to save people, not ruin them. Not getting the most possible profit is important, but to afford opportunities to spend sparetime rightly.
The owners immediately excluded this man. In spite of their envy, however, his profit increased instead of falling. In the same time two people reported for the Alcoholic-saving Service. One of them was the heaviest drunkard of the village. I did not hope much in the success. We did not get far either. Once some people came from the town, they worked for the Service there and used to be alcoholics but overcame it within themselves. They helped us regularly. No more people came to get cured from alcoholism but a great miracle happened. The heaviest drunkard conversed. This success was due to the experienced members of the twin Service. They did the postcare as well.
After one year trial this newly conversed alcoholic brother did a fantastic job. He visited each pub to speak out a witness of Jesus, who saves people's life. He told the story of how he had got free from alcohol. He challenged everyone to choose life, for the pubs' ways lead to death and tragedies. He said that his family life is all right again and how ashamed and sorry he feels about the many bitter years he had caused to his wife and children. But everone laughed at him. Alcohol was more affective than his conversion.
We were already two and we made great efforts to change people' attitude in the village, but we did not get far. At this point my bishop suddenly placed me from Brandyhof to Workhof and Lazyhof.
I was thinking a lot about how I could make my many-year-long efforts more emphatic and lasting.
The smooth and sharp words were not much use. The situation of the village did not get better. Only the brother conversed from alcoholism and the charitable coffee-bar-owner could be considered as a success.
I invited everyone to my farewell-mass. I told them that I liked to live on Brandyhof but I feel my work fruitless. They felt sorry hearing this speech.
At he end of the mass I asked the people present to stay in the church. Asthough there was no celebration that day, we were going to make a procession. I put on the ceremonial chasuble, took the Eucharist and we started to walk around in the village, singing, with our conversed alcoholic brother on the fore. We stopped at the first pub. The conversed brother opened the door. Within there was great babel and smoke. I entered and gave blessing with the Eucharistic. They stopped talking, there came silence. i put down the sacrament and started to talk about Jesus, conversion, sober life.
"Every minute you spend by the pub-table is an attempt on your children, your family and yourself. I ask each in Jesus' name to go home to his family", I said.The people present were scared not only by my words but also by the crowd of believers standing before the pub. All of them left quickly and without a word.
I blessed the empty pub and we walked on. When we reached the third pub, it was completely empty. The news went quicker than the procession.
We went into each pub and blessed it, except for the two last, which quickly closed hearing what had happened.
It happened in such a way that - even if for a short time - gentle-worded Jesus emptied the pubs of Brandyhof, which event has been repeatedly mentioned since then.
My God! Save us from everything that destroys us and our environtment...!
The van took me to Workhof, where the parsonage was. "Nice and clean village", I said to myself as we arrived. There were big houses, tidy gardens and streets.
The parsonage was also a huge, new building. i had never been to such a nice vicarage before. Everything was freshly cleaned. My little furniture for one room seemed lost compared to the many rooms.
Only very few of the inhabitants were waiting on the parsonage. Luckily, some people came along from Brandyhof, so we quickly managed packing.
"This is the busiest work-time", the leader of the local representatives said, explaining, why only few came to help.
Till Sunday I delighted in the nice, two-storey parsonage, in the beautiful garden. As for money, the parish church of Workhof was doing very well. On Sunday I introduced myself in the church. There were not many people.
"Everyone works", they said, "there will be more people in the winter."
I introduced myself in Lazyhof as well. Although there lived here less people than in Workhof, yet more came to the church. As for the environtment, Lazyhof was the opposite of Workhof. Here the houses were not big, the gardens and the streets were not so tidy. Around the church there was plenty of rank grass. Here it was still in fashion to sit before the house and talk. Almost every house there was a bench.
On Workhof the schoolyear started. Many children came to Sunday school, but much less attended the masses. Most of them had duties in the housework. They hoed, scythed, helped at home. I liked this, because at least they were taught to work. "This makes more hopeful that they will work in God's Kingdom as well", I thought. The inhabitants worked a lot. They expected also the priest not to sit in the parsonage doing nothing. It was good to learn: there should be order in and around the house, for this shows the personality and attitude of the house's owner.
The village appreciated very much that they saw me regularly working around the house; the respect towards me increased especially when we tidied the cemetary and I also came with a scythe. I managed with it as well as anybody else; the news about it spread fast: "We have got a hardworking priest", they said. But they did not like that I have furniture only for one room, and all the other rooms of the parsonage were empty. They encouraged me to run a farm, so that I would make my pile soon.
After a few months I saw that here work ruins people. They have much money, nice house. But what does life worth if it is nothing else but rush?
The innkeepers did not make much living here, as I could joyfully see. However, cultural programs could not be organized, because no-one would attend them. I was also broken down when I invited the children on a hike, but only a few came. "We have to help at home", explained the rest.
I was spending my second year on Workhof when in summer many young people came to the parsonage for retreat. Although I announced in the church that they had come and were looking for spiritual renewal, the echo was pretty bad about them in the village. "They came for picnic", people said. "They rather should work instead!", this was the communal opinion.
I preached more and more about the importance of stopping and silence, but I was talking only to the walls.
Everyone was condemned in the village who did not keep up with this dreadful speed of work.
Only very few people were understanding and calm. "It is natural", I thought, "how could they be balanced and smiling when they are working from early morning to late evening? You cannot bring up children, cultivate loving relationships tired."
Next summer I organized a camp for those children who finished primary school. They accepted the idea with great enthusiasm. I called some friends as well to help, and got the necessary permissions. But when we came to the start, a few children remained only. I visited the families. "It is the season of raspberry and cucumber", they said. "We need the children as well." Or: "As soon as he earns the cost of the camp, he can go."
I said in vain that everything was organized and ready, the arguments were no use. Although most of the children would have loved to come.
In this village I experienced how work can block the entrance of God's Kingdom.
Visiting families was almost impossible. I always felt I chose a bad time for visiting.
In personal conversations as well as from the pulpit I tried to put in more and more dramatic words that this mad speed of work leads to destruction and death. The function of work is not to cripple people's life, but it is a possibility given by God for making life more beautiful and covering our necessities.
The words did not move anybody. But the whole village was shaken when some young people died. Many were in hospital with heart attack or other illness. A young man who attended the church services died in the age of 28. He had a family, a 24-year-old wife and two children. He worked himself to death. They had everything, but they did not live well. They were unable to use material values rightly.
On his burial I spoke most dramaticly:"This young father could live till now, if he could have used his time and strength rightly. But by his irresponsibility, never-ending work he left a young widow and orphans. Who does not want this destiny should think! The divine commands not accidentally emphasize the balance of work and rest. We have to change our lives or else death and the grave swallow us too early!"
The shock lasted one or two weeks in the villages, then everything continued as it used to.
I felt myself powerless. I decided to educate some of the children from the Sunday school who would live according to the lines of Jesus here on Workhof. I knew beforehand that because of the false mentality and practice of the village these young people would have to make dreadful efforts.
Yet I kept hoping.
Lazyhof was completely different. Here the people did not exaggerate work at all. Late in the afternoon they switched the tv set on or sat in the front of their houses. The people were not nervous or frustrated at all. All they had to do was sit on the bench before any house, and they could lead long conversations with each other.
Here I could get to know much more people than anywhere else before. These people, however, lived too much a life of ease. True, there was hardly anybody rich among them. They did not feel urged to work at all. "Work doesn't run away from me, it can wait for me till tomorrow", an old lady said. People were hard to move here as well, not because of work, but of lazyness. I asked them who was supposed to scythe around the church to the patronal festival. They did not know. A few days before the festival, early morning, I went and started to scythe around the church. People gazed at me in wonder. But they did not even think of helping. Everyone said something, though. "This scythe works well." "It looks good in your hand." "This scythe is not sharp at all", others said. A Protestant man came along. We talked for a long time. I was annoyed because of this. When he left, he said: "If our priest also took a scythe in his hand, I, too, would go to church."
Some people felt ashamed, though, that the priest had to scythe. Therefore in the following years, they scythed the environs of the church twice a year without being challenged.
There were problems with the children as well. They were unwilling to come to Sunday school or to mass if there was an interesting program on the television. They also did not like the idea of hikes, rather stayed at home, to sleep or to watch television.
Evenings the adolescents were loafing bored around the culture house and the cinema. As they had nothing else to do, they invented stupid jokes, which annoyed the adults pretty much. The adolescents were willing to play soccer but only for half an hour, for they could not manage more.
In this village I could experience: lazyness closes the Kingdom of God just as well as money, alcohol or work.
Who goes on Jesus' path has to make efforts. Who cannot do that, the door of the Kingdom stayes closed before him.
One morning - very bittered - I opened my Bible. I read again Mark 6:11. What did Jesus mean by saying that "where you are not listened to, leave it"?
"I cannot go to the end of the world, my Lord! Wherever you send me I experience the catastrophic effect of money, alcohol, work or lazyness to your Kingdom. I know that I am not listened to in one or two years. I also know that your teaching's striking roots takes long, hard years and can happen only in personal relations. Although I am not much listened to here, I do not want to go away again. I want to try working for a long run. Maybe in a few decades, with a growing new generation the mentality and attitude of the villages can be changed. Surely there will be people who find the right balance between work and rest, enjoyment and moderation. I know these can be carried out only by listening to You. Therefore, my Lord, I do not leave this place, allow me to stay, strike roots and grow old here. Amen."
I blew my candle out. I calmed down and settled down on Workhof and Lazyhof for a long run.
Földrajzi hely (amirol szól): Magyarorsz?g
Keletkezés ill. kiadás dátuma: 1993.
Fordító (az aktuális anyag nyelvére): Simonyi Katalin
Sorozat, folyóirat, gyujtemény (amibe tartozik): ?rted vagyok