Once, long ago, in a great city there lived a man. He was neither young nor old. He lived a most holy and exemplary life. Everything he did glowed with his holy love for his neighbor and his God.
In this same city there lived a boy. He was in that time of life between childhood and manhood. He was an outcast, living in the streets, and leading a life of great ignorance and sin.By chance, the boy and the man met. They befriended each other. In time, the boy’s life changed. Inspired by his friend’s holy life, he gave up his life of a street urchin to better his position in life. He enrolled in a good school with the help of his friend, and was soon at the top of his class and loved by all for his virtues. However, he lost track of his good friend who had helped bring about this change.
Now it is 20 years later. We are in the same great city, and entering a house in the slums. A house – nay, a tumbledown shack that seems to be falling at every wind.
On a hard, narrow bed, covered with a thin, dirty blanket, lies an old man. He is dying. On his face you see the marks of a hard life, filled with sin and distrust. But there is a heartbreaking sorrow in it as well.
Seated beside the bed, on a rickety old chair, is a priest. He is young, and on his face you read a life that has known pain and suffering, but knows the love of God and trusts in Him, bringing Him all his afflictions.
Let us listen to the words spoken between the two.“Ah, Father, once I believed in a loving and merciful God. But how can it be true? All the pain in life, how could there be a God if He permits it? Yes – (here the man gave a bitter laugh) I have despaired. What if there is a Hell? I shall go there, and what of it?”The priest listened, a pain gnawing at his heart. As he gazed upon the man’s face, he remembered a time when it had been neither young nor old, but glowed with a holy love for his neighbor and his God.
Yes, the priest was the former street urchin, and the man was his old friend!
The priest grasped one of the thin, cold hands. He looked into the man’s eyes.“Do you remember me, my friend?”
The man looked into the priest’s face. After a while he said, “Why, weren’t you that little street urchin I knew 20 years ago?”
“I was,” said the priest, “and you have given me the greatest gift that one could give, that if carefully treasured, will never fade or break. You have given me the gift of faith.”
The man looked into the priest’s face, and the priest now read in the eyes of the man a pained, longing remembrance. A remembrance of when he had possessed that beautiful gift, that when treasured, will last for eternity – a strong faith in God.
“I would like to read you something,” said the priest, opening his Bible. “Listen. ‘My brethren, if any one of you err from the truth and one convert him, he must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his ways shall save his soul from death.’
“My friend, I was once a sinner and you converted me. But God, in His great mercy, will not let your soul be lost. He loves you with a special love, for you brought back to Him one of His lost sheep.”
“How can He love one so wretched as I?” the old man muttered.
“It is the truth,” said the priest softly. “’Know ye the truth, and the truth shall set ye free.’”
Many moments passed – long, hard moments for the priest. He knew that a precious soul hung in the balance between Heaven and Hell. He had done all he could – now he would leave it to the grace of God.
“’…will set ye free,” repeated the man. “I am locked in the fetters of sin. Time is short. Death! I used not to fear it. It was only death of the body, but now it is the soul as well!”
Tears ran down the old man’s cheeks. He grasped the priest’s hand.
“I believe in God," he exclaimed fervently. "He was only joy in my life, and life was hideous without Him. Thank God for you, you little urchin! Father, please hear my confession.”
The priest heard the man’s confession and then gave him Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction.
The old man clutched the crucifix the priest had given him. He was silent for several moments and his breathing became even more laboured. The priest knew his friend was in his last moments. Then the old man grasped the priest’s hand.
“Thank you, Father,” he whispered. “I…gave you…faith…you…gave it…back. To… love… God… to…love…Him…”
The old man’s voice faded to a whisper and he breathed his last, one hand holding the hand of the man he had brought to the Church, and who, in return, had brought him back. In the other hand was the only hope in this land of exile – a crucifix.
And the priest sat with bowed head, holding the lifeless hand of his friend. He pondered on those words.
‘Know ye the truth and the truth shall set ye free!’Truly, when you know the truth, live the truth, share the truth, believe the truth, the truth that is faith, hope and charity, the gathering of all the good of the world, the truth that is God Himself, the Truth shall set you free from the fetters of sin and the darkness of death.