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JAMES BEHRENS: The love, goodness of people shine like a light on a dark road

Father James Behrens

Father James Behrens

The Hanley family lived in Jersey City. I met them only once, while taking a parish census.

I was young then, in my mid-20s. The parish was very large -- thousands of family. I was not yet ordained a priest and part of my duties was going from house to house, meeting the families and filling out a census form for each of them.

The Hanleys lived in an old apartment house. I rang the doorbell and Mrs. Hanley answered, smiled at me and asked me to please come in. It was a small apartment, just a few rooms.

She brought me into the living room and there sat Mr. Hanley, his three small children nestled around him. Mrs. Hanley sat next to him, taking the youngest child in her lap.

We chatted for a while. Mr. Hanley did most of the talking. It was nearing Christmas. He told me he was a plumber and that times were not good. Looking at his children, he said that he hoped to get them what they wanted for Christmas. He was dressed in his work clothes. I imagined that he just come home from work.

Looking about the room, it seemed that they did not have much in terms of material things. The furniture was old and worn. Some toys were scattered on the floor. A small television rested on a table near a window.

As Mr. Hanley spoke to me, I was drawn to him, to the way he was, to what he said and how he said it. Something about him was so kind and warm. His wife and children looked at him with love and admiration as he spoke.

It came time to leave and he asked me if I was free anytime -- he would love it if I could come for dinner. I did, a few weeks later. We had supper in the kitchen -- there was no dining room -- and it was one of the most pleasant and rewarding evenings I remember from the time in that parish.

For some reason, and I think I know why, the Hanleys have lived in me for almost 40 years. They were like a kind and warm light to me. They had so little but shared with me the wealth of what they did have.

I wonder where they are now. The kids would be grown adults now, with children and maybe even grandchildren of their own. I am sure that they eventually moved from the apartment to larger quarters, hopefully, to a house of their own. And, like many, they probably moved out of Jersey City to the suburbs, looking for a better life.

I know that back then they already found the best that life can offer. Not things, but goodness.

I hope they did well in their lives. If they moved on to being able to afford more in life for themselves and their children, I would be glad to hear about it.

But I hope that the light that they were is still aglow, that it still shines for themselves and for those who have been blessed to know them.

All through the years, I have known people like the Hanley family. They have been like lights along a sometimes dark road. I have looked for God along that road, and He came, and then came again, sometimes at a kitchen table, or through a memorable and warm friendship.

I sometimes wish I had lights to string in my window for Christmas. I suppose I could get some.

But then I look back on the people who have been windows to God in my life, beautiful windows, strung with lovely, bright lights that shone a message of welcome, welcome to our lives.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net.