A telephone call came into the rectory. It was the father of a twenty-year-old man named Doug. Doug had contracted this strange disease [AIDS]and was asking for a visit by a priest. Monsignor Henry, the pastor in his seventies, asked all three full-time priests to go; each refused, using the severity and unknown cause of the disease as an excuse. Monsignor Henry then approached me. I was hesitant and was going to use my studies as an excuse. However, when he agreed to accompany me, I decided to go.
Once we arrived at the hospital, we were told to put on protective “moon suits” before going in to Doug’s room. He looked much older and sicker than I had expected. We talked softly for about fifteen minutes; then Doug began to cry.
“What’s wrong, Doug?” I asked.
He looked at me and with incredible sadness replied, “It dawns on me that no one has even touched me in over three months.”
I let those words sink in and wondered how I would have handled life without a handshake or hug for three months. As I thought about that, I suddenly became aware of Monsignor Henry slowly removing the helmet and garb of the protective “moon suit.” And then I witnessed the parable of the judgement of the nations played out as elderly Monsignor Henry bent over and hugged dying Doug.
A holy silence descended upon the room. I wondered how Monsignor Henry could be willing to rick his own life by responding to Doug that way.
We drove home in virtual silence. As we approached the church in the Bronx, I turned to Monsignor Henry, but before I could say a word he simply said with tears in his eyes, “Years ago, I told Jesus that I would give him everything – and I mean everything. Today, I was able to give to Jesus what he has given to me.” Monsignor Henry subconsciously knew that selfless openness could lead to an encounter with the God who empties himself in the ordinary yet sacred moment before him.