Now and again, we meet someone, and that someone brings us not only into their life but into their circle of relationships. We meet each other through each other.
I met Father Paul Henry in my late 20s and at 35,000 feet. We were both traveling to Israel with a pilgrimage led by Father Tom Dilorenzo. I had expected the trip would bring me closer to Christ, as well as our then six-year-old eldest-of-two daughters, my mother, and grandmother, who had also come along. What I didn't expect was a bond of enduring friendship that has lasted the rest of my life.
Father Paul and I are 20 years apart. On paper, we have little in common. He's a cradle Catholic from a large, Irish-American family in Delaware, and I'm an only child of divorced parents and college convert to the faith. But his infectious (dare I say that these days?) laugh, his unceasingly active mind, and the way he offered Mass in all those Gospel settings were more than enough to draw me in.
It wasn't long after that trip to the Holy Land before I asked if he would be my spiritual director. The fact that he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore made it a bit complicated, but we found a way to schedule regular contact. In the process, we became part of each other's lives.
Father Paul has been with us through most of the major decisions and events of our lives. He was a great source of support when I suffered a miscarriage and a joyful advocate whenever our family grew. He celebrated many of our children's first Communions and is godfather to one of our kids. God knows we've given him a lot to pray for and about over the years, and he's been more than happy to do so.
Early on in our friendship, however, I noticed that Father Paul Henry couldn't go more than a few minutes without mentioning St. Francis de Sales. To be honest, it was irritating, and I told him so. But I also told him that in order to get him to shut up about Francis de Sales, I'd read whatever books he thought I should. That week, copies of the "Introduction to the Devout Life" and "Treatise on the Love of God" (in two volumes, thank you) arrived at my door. I had been interested in Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, and St. Teresa of Avila before that. But when I read De Sales, I realized that he had been instructing and leading me all along. Suddenly, I had a new friend, not in Baltimore, but in heaven. Francis de Sales has been my go-to saint ever since.
We had a chance to return the favor when we took Father Paul Henry out to the shrine in Stockbridge in the early 1990s. He hadn't known much about then-Blessed Faustina Kowalska or her vision of Jesus as Divine Mercy. After some extended conversation, the director there at the time sent Father Paul a box full of books, and something like what had happened to me with De Sales happened to him with Divine Mercy.
A few years later, he was asked to lead a Divine Mercy pilgrimage to Poland for a fellow Baltimore priest who had become too ill to do so. Of course, Father Paul led the group in prayer for the sick priest, invoking the intercession of Blessed Faustina at all her sites on the itinerary. The instantaneous healing that occurred on her feast day a few months later was subsequently investigated by the Vatican and approved as a miracle. As a result, Father Paul Henry was one of the concelebrants at St. Faustina's canonization Mass, the first of the new millennium.
But isn't this how friendship works? Now and again, we meet someone, and that someone brings us not only into their life but into their circle of relationships. We meet each other through each other. And suddenly, we are living our lives with companions we never expected, in a community that transcends both distance and time. St. Francis de Sales died 400 years ago, in 1622. When it comes to the Communion of Saints, that's just a drop in the bucket. In Christ Jesus, our friendships really are forever -- both here and in heaven.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.