Fr. Rick Curry, SJ, has died. He founded the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped and in the past several years had been helping wounded veterans tell their stories through theatre (and gain business skills through Dog Tag Bakery). He was a Jesuit brother for 48 years before being ordained a priest 6 years ago. Born without a right forearm, he received special permission from the Vatican to celebrate Mass with only one hand.
I met him once 4 years ago, when I was driving around the country talking to members of religious orders (mostly Jesuits) working in the performing arts. He told me this story:
When he began working with veterans, many of the veterans who were amputees identified with him, because of his missing arm. Many of them felt they could share things with him they couldn’t share with others, and some wanted to confess to him.
One veteran in particular asked Br. Rick to hear his confession. Rick explained that he was a brother, not a priest, and therefore couldn’t hear his confession. The man became angry, and asked Rick why he wasn’t a priest.
“Because I wasn’t called,” Rick answered.
“Who calls you, then?” the man responded.
“God, or God’s people,” Rick answered.
The man replied: “Well, I’M God’s people, and I’M calling you!”
That encounter shook Rick, and when he discussed it with his spiritual director, his director asked, “Do you think there might be an invitation here – to become a priest?”
Rick replied: “But I don’t even LIKE priests!”
I really appreciated that story, both as an example of how our calls from God are often mediated through other people, and as an example of humility. Rick was willing to listen and respond to what God was asking of him, even though it went against a strong sense of identity he had formed as a Jesuit brother, and meant mustering the courage to go deeper into his vocation as a Jesuit by growing into a new identity as a Jesuit priest.
In an interview with Kevin J. Wetmore, you can see how much joy this new identity brought him in the last several years of his life. I encourage you also to read the moving story that Fr. James Martin, SJ, shared of Fr. Rick’s encounter with St. Francis Xavier’s forearm as a child:
Dear friends: I am very sorry to have to share the very sad news with you that a remarkable Jesuit priest has died,…
Eternal rest grant unto Rick, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. May he live forever in the joyous Company of his Jesuit brothers, all the saints, and the Lord under whose standard he served. Amen.
Image credit: Fr. James Martin, SJ, via Facebook