The Father's love
It’s amazing what God does without me even asking. He’s the best gift-giver I know. One of the bounteous gifts He showered me with during our trip was loving me with such Fatherly tenderness and care. And He made that love so abundant, so clear, through one of His countless faithful and holy priests: Fr. Julian.
For months, Fr. Julian was just a name to me. Our trip director would occasionally update us that she’d talked to him, or was waiting to hear back from him, or was really excited for his vision. But when all you have to go off of is a name, it’s hard to know what to expect.
But then we met him. And learned that he’d woken up at 4 am. To make sure he was at the airport in time to pick us up, of course. To make a four-hour round trip in his trusty steed of a (borrowed) van to procure this strange group of 12 Americans who’d just met each other. And later we learned that he’d be shuttling us back and forth daily in that blessed, blessed van to and from our various host families’ homes, all six of them, in approximately six different directions from his own. He’d tell us a vague time (or time frame) to be ready by in the morning, which we, like the disobedient children we are, usually disregarded. “I’ll come when you least expect,” he’d say, “Just like the Lord!”
On our first day off after our arduous first week, I won the lucky privilege of sitting next to Fr. Julian as he drove us home after a lovely day trip to Wales. I only have one sister, so I wouldn’t know, but I imagine it felt something like the way one of 12 kids would feel if she got to sit next to her dad on a long car ride. (There’s only so far conversation can reach from the back row.) It was a delight. Never once did I feel neglected in the midst of the group, but there was something sacred about that one-on-one time, time when he shared his hopes for his parishes and what he missed about being a university chaplain and the way his European travels opened his eyes. And he made me feel known and heard and seen, too.
And like any good father, he fed us, too. He’d cook delicious meals for us in the evening, refusing any help in the kitchen, beaming as he watched us serve ourselves generous portions then seconds. As a pescetarian (I eat fish but not meat), I so often feel like a burden when people kindly offer to cook for me. I hate to put parameters on their generosity, but meat and I just do not get along. I timidly told Fr. Julian at the beginning of the trip, and I would’ve been happy to have my fill on bread and salad and bottomless mugs of tea the whole time. But that just wouldn’t do for Fr. Julian. No, each meal he cooked included a special portion for me: meatless sauce, seafood bisque, bacon-less oatcakes…each evening I was stuffed.
And it wasn’t just a small token of extra work or foresight or culinary creativity. Those plates he’d silently pass me told me this: I remember you. I know what you need. You’re special to me. And through Fr. Julian, I heard those whispers of love from God.
My favorite moment of my time with Father was on the top of a hill, the one pictured above. He’d proudly taken us there to show off the spectacular view. As storm clouds rolled quickly in, we hurried to get our pictures and go, but not before he showed us why it was his favorite spot. Fr. Julian serves four parishes. Four. And like our hosts’ homes, they’re in every which way. But that hill is his favorite, because from its peak he can see each one. Each place where he makes Jesus present with utmost reverence, where he hears humble confessions with great gentleness, where he shepherds the lost, where his prayers reach to each soul who fills the pews, from the newest born to the nearest death. As we stood atop that hill looking for miles, I stood beside Fr. Julian and could just feel his love. I could sense his fatherly heart being moved with love for his spiritual children, those children he lays down his life to serve.
So, I thank God for Fr. Julian. In 19 short days, in a little town 3,000 miles from home, I felt His fatherly love through that joyful and generous and sacrificial priest like never before. The best gift-giver, indeed.