One of the earliest entries in my notebooks. Easter Sunday, a long, long time ago.
—Father M. said mass. Fr. M. was once introduced to me as “Jim.” He was going to the movies, without his collar but with a date. Since his election to the County Board he has not lived in a rectory but kept his own apartment downtown. Fr. M. is the only graduate of our grade school to enter the priesthood. With some people he is unpopular because of his involvement in politics. With others, Mom says, he is unpopular because he went through a period of bad grooming when his bathing habits suffered. But he is taking better care of himself, Mom reports, and she only wishes he’d shave off his beard. I wonder how many people remember his anti-war marches on Washington DC and Veterans Park downtown. His mother remembers. “My son, the radical,” is how she refers to him.
Mrs. M’s son the radical is now attached to our church, and he said mass with great enjoyment. He is lanky and angular, much taller than the other priests—when they joined him for communion he looked too big for the altar. He has thick black hair and that thick black beard mom wishes would go. He was unsure of himself with the service, but after the Lord’s Prayer he told a story that made the cheery Easter congregation cheerier and I swear that after hearing it the ushers were rushing around the back of the church at the sign of peace trying to shake hands with everybody.
Fr. M’s story went like this:
A rabbi was teaching his disciples. The rabbi asked them, “How can you tell if it is night out or day?”
The disciples were quick with the obvious. They said, “Why, rabbi, it is day when the sun shines and night when the moon shines.” The rabbi said no. And he asked the question again.
The disciples thought it over and answered more cleverly, “Rabbi, it is night when the shepherd cannot see to count his sheep, and day when he can count them easily.”
The rabbi again said no and again put the question. The disciples put their heads together and answered a third time. “When you can look down the road and see the approach of a traveller, it is day. It is night when the traveller can approach undetected.”
The rabbi said no again.
This time the disciples were stumped, and they asked the rabbi to answer the question.
The rabbi said, “I tell you, if you look into the eyes of your fellow men and women and do not see your brother or sister, it is night.
"But when you look into their eyes and see your sister or brother there, it is always day, no matter what time.”