After my ordination, I was assigned to work with the growing number of Hispanic immigrants in my diocese. Most of them were from Mexico, but just about every Latin country was represented among them.
They have taught me many lessons and have helped me to depend on God for everything. They have especially taught me to be the priest that God has called me to be. Here is one of those lessons.
Fiesta Frustration. In the first part of my priestly life, I was assigned to develop a Hispanic ministry in the diocese. I would drive three thousand miles around the diocese every month, knocking on doors looking for immigrants, and I would celebrate Masses in different parishes. At this time I was still very impressed with my own abilities, so I would ask God for help if I really needed it, but mostly I ran off of my own energy.
So it is not surprising that I got discouraged after a short while. I would drive several hours for a Mass, and only ten or twenty people would show up. I was frustrated and not sure what to do. I was also very cynical about things, although I tried not to show it.
Around the end of October in my third year of the priesthood, I went to St. Luke’s Parish for the monthly Mass and a meeting that followed with the leaders of the parish. They told me, “Padre, we are making plans for the Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe in December. We are going to have a big fiesta to feed everyone who will come. We have enough beans and rice, but we don’t have enough meat. Could you find us a deer?”
I thought to myself, “This is it! All the time I spent in school, all the training that I’ve had, and these people want me to find a deer as if they grow on trees.” So I said, “Si Dios quiere,” which means “God willing.” However, I really meant it sarcastically.
Drama of the Deer. The following Tuesday, I got a call from a man I’d never met before who wanted to talk about the Hispanic ministry. I invited him to come the next morning for Mass. After Mass, I greeted every-one, and this man stayed back until everyone had left.
I am used to the usual formalities when I meet someone for the first time, but this guy came up with trembling hands and said to me, “Father, do you have a sharp knife and some plastic bags?” Now, I have watched enough cable movies to know that you don’t give your own knife to someone, so I asked him what was going on. His answer made my hair stand on end.
“On the way over this morning, I hit a deer, and it is in the back of my car! I need to drain the blood from the deer so that the meat doesn’t spoil.” I was speechless. I went into the rectory, got the knife and the bags, and went with him to his car.
Sure enough, there was a dead deer in the back of this car with its tongue sticking out. I began to question the man, because my mind did not want to believe what was happening. I asked him to tell me how this happened. He said that it was really strange. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, and he was enjoying the drive. He noticed up ahead the deer eating grass on the side of the road. He said that when he got close to the deer, it lifted its head, looked him right in the eye, and just walked in front of his car and gave up its life. Those were his exact words.
While it is not unusual to hit a deer in Arkansas, it is rare when it occurs in the daytime. Another thing the man did not understand: There was no visible damage to the car, not even a scratch—only some fur on the bumper. The man said he was still trembling from the experience.
I didn’t want to let on that it was my fault that all of this had happened! But I finally gave in and said to him, “I am supposed to ask you for some of this deer meat.” He did not say anything; he just cut off the back hindquarter and gave it to me. I carried it back to the rectory, and I said to God, “You don’t have to be so dramatic!” I could hear God rolling on the floor, dying from laughter.
Walking in Faith. The following week I went to the parish and handed the deer meat to Ana, one of the leaders, and said rather enthusiastically, “Here’s your deer meat.” She just took it like she was expecting that it was coming, so I said, “Wait a minute—this was a miracle!”
I will never forget the look on her face. She said to me, “You’re a priest, and you don’t know that God is providential?” I got the lesson.
I am indebted to all the people I have had the pleasure of serving in our diocese. They pray for us priests, and they put up with us! I am thankful that the Lord has called me to be a priest here. But I am especially grateful to the Hispanics in my diocese and those I have come to know through them in Mexico and other places in Latin America. They have helped me learn how to rely on God and to ask with faith, knowing that the Lord will listen.
Msgr. Scott Friend is vicar general and vocation director of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas. This article is adapted from his story in A Priest’s Life: The Calling, the Cost, the Joy.Click here to purchase the book, "A Priest's Life".