Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 9, 2015

Yes, He Is A Priest

BillM-smBlog2Bill was different.  He was a unique person – a unique man.  He was a unique priest.  Once, after a stay with Bill at his apartment in the Bowery section of Manhattan – a second floor walk-up over a pawn shop – I was waiting with Bill on the sidewalk, for a ride out of town.  I had made contact by phone with a priest who was driving out of the city that day to return to his parish, who would be driving near a little one-room cabin deep in the woods of upstate New York – a cabin available for times of solitude, hermitage, and prayer, a cabin owned by a parishioner in this priest’s parish.

Bill as usual was dressed in ordinary secular clothes.  We saw the priest drive up to the curb at the address given him on the phone.  He was wearing the clerical collar – a very unusual sight around the Bowery – so we were sure he was my ride.  He was nervous, making it clear to me that he’d be grateful to load me up right away so he could be on his way.  He was not comfortable in that area of the city, and was constantly looking this way and that as he opened the trunk for my shoulder bag.  He wanted to be out of there.  Bill helped open and close the car door for me, smiling at the priest and offering a few words of friendly small talk, but the priest was in the car and driving away.  Bill smiled and waved good-bye, and we were gone.

Once we were on our way, safely out of the Bowery, and the priest and I had exchanged a few words about my upcoming time in the hermitage cabin, he asked me, “Was that man a priest?”  “Yes,” I said.  “He is a priest.”  “I knew it!”  The priest exclaimed this as he hit his hand on the steering wheel for emphasis.  It was a strange “knowing” – he was not expressing happiness at the confirmation, nor at the recognition of a brother priest, nor at the presence of a priest in the Bowery of New York on the street corner in front of a pawn shop.  His face, his tone, his voice was saying something else.  It was as though he did not want it to be true.  It was as though Bill, a priest, in the Bowery of New York in front of a pawn shop made him angry.  Bill was different; a different kind of priest.

BillM.wpipe.smBlog2Bill was always available to me.  If availability is “poverty,” as some consecrated religious now describe the vow of poverty that they take, then Bill was the poorest consecrated religious man that I ever knew.  He wanted to live poorly, and he did in his humble little “over the pawn shop” one-bedroom in the Bowery.  He wanted to live among the bums, the drunks, the street-people who begged and washed car windshields at the stoplights for change to buy more liquor.  He wanted to be with them; he wanted to be for them, and he was.  This was his home.

Bill was a retreat master, a spiritual director, an expert on Augustine, on John’s Gospel, on John’s epistles.  Most of all, Bill was a catechist: he pointed me and others to Christ, he helped me and others listen to the saving Truth of Christ, he “set up our meeting” with our Lord.  Bill was the wisest man I ever knew: he knew, he was submitted to, he “trembled at” God’s Holy Word.

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

It is ironic to me that Bill did not want to be called “Father,” though Catholic priests have that title: he was always simply “Bill,” yet he was in truth a father to me.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Cor 4:15)

Bill led me to Christ, and he became my spiritual father in Christ.  That word, “Father,” is a holy word!  A profound word, a precious and costly one, earned by the Cross!   To this day the title seems diminished far more than honored by too many others!  Words mean things!   The Word of God, the Truth of God ought to cause “trembling” on the lips of men – a trembling that reaches to the heart, that brings worship, and obedience, and life.

Thank you, Bill, for introducing me to the living Word!  Thank you for pointing me consistently, humbly, faithfully, in a truly fatherly way, for many years to the one sure Rock on which to build my life.  Pray for us, and for the whole Church.  We need it.

BillM-Color2edited_smBlog2These pictures were taken 30 years ago this month, in the summer house of one of Bill’s many friends, in Londonderry NH, during a retreat that Bill directed for my wife Deborah, another retreatant Bob, and me.  Finding the pictures today moved me to many memories, to much gratitude and thanksgiving.  I am humbled by him, yet also strengthened.  Maybe someone else reading this had the privilege of knowing him:

William J. Mountain, S.J. – “Bill.”


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for this blog article describing our dear brother in Christ. He was, as you said, a priest who pointed others to Christ in a unique and humble way. The pictures you took of him on that retreat so long ago, brought back many beautiful memories of all God gave him to share with us, and many others.

    It was no surprise when we learned of his death in 1995, that he had passed away quietly during a noontime “break” to rest, while giving a private retreat. He died as he had lived on this earth, giving freely what God had so freely given to him.

    My first meeting with him was very special; I can still remember his saying: “Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t live the Gospel!” It was like music to my ears, and he ended our meeting with telling me to pray the words of Mary in her Magnificat. Thank you, dear Brother Bill, for more than we can say.

  2. Thomas,

    What nice tribute to Bill. These days priest seem to be so busy they do not have time to be Bills.

    Francis

    • Hello Francis – Thank you for your comment; I’m glad that you had a chance to read the post. It was a privilege for me to know Bill, and I’m happy to let others know what a fine man and holy priest that he was – while on earth – and continues to be in the Church now, I am confident, in heaven.

      There are holy priests! And holy deacons, and bishops, and lay men and women! There are holy persons who are in this world but not of it – and to that holy life all are called. All are called, though perhaps few show a whole-hearted embrace of that call. We must be committed deep in our bones, deep in our souls, to that call and to a heroic response to it, and to Him. Let us pray for grace to so live as to honor Him, our Lord, and to help one another live as He would have us live. And He will. He will be our Help, to the very end.

  3. What a blessing to have him in your lives. And a Jesuit at that!!

    • Thank you for the comment, Judy – blessing it was, indeed, and a blessing that continues to bear fruit in me, in Deborah, in our marriage and in our lives.

  4. Thanks for sending out those words, Thomas. I have a lot of reading to do this summer and will look forward to talking to you on the net. Rod

    • Thank you, Rod – and I’ll look forward to hearing from you, as the summer progresses. May the good Lord lead you to some good and holy reading materials!


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