A Priest from New York went to Rome for an audience with Pope John Paul ll. Whilst in Rome, before his meeting he decided to go to a church to pray. As he walked through the door he saw a beggar sitting on the steps, which is not uncommon, and yet he sensed something familiar about him. When he had finished praying he walked back out and decided to speak to the beggar, at which time they realised that they knew each other and had gone to Seminary together. The beggar revealed how he had been a Priest and had ‘crashed and burned’ in his vocation.
Later, when the Priest had an audience with the Pope, he joined the line of people who were processing past, and when his turn came, he gave in to a holy impulse and fell to his knees asking the Pope to pray for the beggar he had met earlier, telling him of how he was a Priest but had now fallen on hard times.
The Pope gave the Priest an invitation to bring the beggar to dinner with him that evening. The Priest immediately went from St Peters to the small church and found the beggar was still on the steps. The Priest told the beggar of the invitation they had been given from John Paul ll. The beggar said that he could not possibly do such a thing, but the Priest insisted telling him he was not going to this meal without him. He then took the beggar to his hotel room and gave him a loan of his razor and some clothes.
The two men arrived an hour later at the Papal apartments and sat down and ate a nice meal with the Pope. An hour later the Pope asked the Priest to kindly leave him alone with his friend. The Priest found out, later that evening, what had happened when he left the room:
The Pope turned to the beggar and said, “Would you hear my confession?” The beggar replied, “but I am not a Priest anymore!” The Pope then told him, “once a Priest, you are always a Priest.” But the beggar told the Pope that he was out of good standing with the church. The Pope replied, “I am the Bishop of Rome, I can reinstate you right now,” which he then does.
The Pope then knelt before the beggar and confessed his sins. The beggar-Priest barely got the words of absolution out before he fell on his knees and with tears in his eyes asks the Pope to hear his confession. Once the beggar-Priest was restored to Christ and in a state of grace, the Pope asked the other Priest to come back into the room. The Pope asked him which church he had found his friend at, upon learning he then told the beggar-Priest, “for your first pastoral assignment I want you to go to this church and report for duty, because you will be an associate there, with a special outreach to your fellow beggars on the street” – and to this day that is where the beggar-Priest works, helping the dispossessed.
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
(John 20:22 & 23).