In the 1920s automobiles were a relatively new and expensive technology but my grandfather owned one because he was a mechanic. That made him the “go-to” guy for his parish priest who didn’t own one. From time to time his pastor, a Belgian priest named Fr. Seion, would call my grandfather late at night to take him to the bed of a dying person. A rather dramatic sick call happened one night and my Grandpa never tired of recounting the story.

The priest received a call from a woman who claimed that her husband was in extremis and desperately needed a priest to perform Last Rites. Her husband had been away from the Church for many years and she was concerned that he would die without the benefit of the Church’s sacraments. A groggy Fr. Seion agreed to go see the man; then he called Grandpa to pick him up by the church sacristy as soon as possible. The priest then went to the church to retrieve the sacraments.

The moment Father opened the tabernacle door to bring out Holy Communion, he heard a gentle voice behind him calling, “Father, Father!” Turning around he saw a wholesome-looking young man, with a somewhat mysterious aura about him, standing in the center aisle of the darkened church, just outside the altar rail. The mysterious man said, “There is no need for the sacraments now, Father. The man who needed them has already died. Please don’t trouble yourself any further.” Taking the statement at face value, the priest, still sleepy from the midnight wake-up call, responded, “Okay,” closed the tabernacle, and proceeded to make his way out of the church through the sacristy.

Something about that young man, however, continue to bother the priest as he made his way out of the church. Placing the key in the door to lock the sacristy, he pondered carefully why a clean, well-spoken, young man should appear in a darkened church in the middle of the night asking him not to bring the sacraments to a soul in need. Then the truth of the matter hit him like a ton of bricks. Father rushed back into the church, and the mysterious man was no longer there. He then hastily retrieved the sacraments he had just put away a moment before and quickly exited the church beckoning to my grandfather to drive him to the man’s house as fast as the car could possibly go.

When the priest arrived at the house, the sick man was already dead. Due to Father’s experience in the church that night, the priest was delayed and had arrived too late to perform the full ritual of the Last Rites on the man. According to my grandfather, the priest gave the man the anointing anyway and said the prayers for the dead that he would normally have said on such an occasion. But Grandpa told us that the chance encounter with the mysterious man in the church always disturbed the priest afterward. That man caused him to be late in bringing the sacraments to a soul in need of God’s mercy.

Who was that man in the church?

(Excerpted from Angel Discernment, by Peter Darcy, to be published in 2017.)