First, I must confess something. I am jealous. I just found out my youngest brother, Tim and his wife are going to hear Harry Connick, Jr. in March. (This is Tim's third time!) I love Harry. (Need evidence? Know what we named our third child? OK - not really.)
And now for a second, albeit longer, confession. Wednesday I met Josh & Sergio near our office and we climbed in his dad's Rover and he drove us the 30-minute trip to Castelfidardo - home of the handmade, Italian accordion. Quaint little Marchegian village - we walked around for a while - I was amazed at the number of accordion shops mixed in with the typical stores. Even the bars and caffes used accordions in their decor.
What brought us to this town was a lunch meeting with a priest which Sergio and his mother had set up for us - they thought we would enjoy meeting him. Last week was the annual 'Week of Prayer' where the Catholic church organizes special events together with local Evangelical churches to promote unity and I guess Sergio had hosted or been a part of one of these meetings which is where this whole idea of getting together came up.
Like you, perhaps, I have a certain image of what a priest looks like and behaves like, partly due to Hollywood's influence and partly due to living so close to the 'priest factory' which is this lovely boot-shaped country we call 'home'. As we stood in front of the City Hall, eavesdropping on Sergio's phone conversation and wincing at the sharp smell of cat urine, I watched as people walked by and kept wondering when he would show up. When a sporty, little GT drove by and I got a glimpse of a guy in plain clothes smoking a cigarette behind the wheel I didn't even think twice about it until Sergio said, 'Here he is.'
Andrea, the priest, got out of his car, greeted us and then quickly disappeared into the church that was behind us, reemerging a few minutes later, a very disarming smile on his face. He has a very youthful (after all, he IS only 33) way about him and walks as if he's accustomed to playing soccer. On our way to Sergio's car we passed a group of teens and one of them walked right up to Andrea, the priest, and asked him for a cigarette. He told the kid, 'Non ne ho una.' and a few steps later proceeded to pull a package of cigarettes out of a pocket and as if to soothe his conscience read us the warning labels out loud, "Not for children", "Smoking can kill you".
In the car, I sat in the back with Andrea, the priest, and we talked about where he studied (Ancona & Rome) and where we had studied and what we were doing. We both seemed fascinated with each other's backgrounds. We ended up at an amazing little trattoria, owned and operated by a distant relative of Sergio's. Because Andrea is a priest, we were allowed a table in the upper room, usually reserved for special guests (the mayor of the town was at a table behind us).
I had the tagliatelle con piselli e prosciutto with a grilled pork chop and side salad and it was delicious; as was our conversation. We talked about lots of things and were joined near the end by Sergio's mother (a High-School biology teacher) who drank an espresso with the rest of us.
Throughout our time together, I was able to ask him some of the questions I'd always been curious about regarding the life of a Catholic clergyman - one of these was, "When and how often do you have to wear your priestly clothes?"
This question came up after Andrea, the priest, had stepped outside for a quick smoke, so he was a little more relaxed. He smiled at my curiosity and answered very confidently, with an air that told me it wasn't the first time he'd been posed the question. "There is a canonical law that states a priest must always wear the specially prescribed clothing. But I don't. I figure that on the minor things like this, God will show mercy in heaven." I smiled and expressed my approval. Josh and I both told him how much we appreciated him being real and authentic, able to really connect with people. He said he believes that no one should be above or below him - but that we should all be on the same level. (He also, recalling memories of his girlfriend during his first years at the seminary, thinks priests should be able to marry.) We exchanged phone numbers and he said he was going to try to make it to our next Encounter coffee house.
As Sergio drove us home and I sat in the backseat with his mother making small-talk, watching the rolling Marchegian countryside out the window, I couldn't help but wonder what God is doing. I'm seeing him move and work in ways that I haven't seen in the nearly seven years we have been here. As Andy Stanley puts it, I feel like I'm being presented with a truth which is like a blinding light, and I can either run back into the comfortable darkness or stay in the light and let my eyes become accustomed to it and see things around me as they really are, in light of a Truth I had not known before or which I had chosen to ignore. I confess that I don't know where this is going - but when God moves, I want to be on board.