From Gangster To PriestI recently was privileged to hear the remarkable story of the conversion of Fr John Pridmore.
John Pridmore was born in London's East End and was baptised a Catholic. But his family never lived as Catholics. They never went to Mass. He did not have a Catholic education. His attitude towards religion was, he wouldn't be seen dead inside a church. Religion was for weak people.
At age ten he came home one from school one day and was told by his parents that he had to choose one of them to live with because they were getting divorced. He loved both his parents and he could not choose, and something inside him died. He determined never to love, because then you could not get hurt.
His mother had a bad breakdown and had to go to a psychiatric hospital, so John went to live with his father. His father remarried and his stepmother's philosophy about bringing up children was to give them a good thrashing every day. And his father, who was a policeman, joined in. So after the age of ten, John Pridmore lived in a world of physical abuse.
At age thirteen he started stealing because he reasoned, whatever you want in this life you have to take, because no-one is going to give it to you. At age fifteen he was put in a juvenile facility, and he said he preferred it there to living at home.
When he came out he met some men who seemed to have everything. When they went into clubs people showed them respect. John Pridmore decided that he wanted to have that respect and power too. So he went to work for them.
He became involved in drug dealing, in protection rackets, and in being a hit man. The more vicious he became, the more money and power he had. At one stage he wore specially tailored suits to hold his machete and gas.
Without the life of grace in your soul you fall upon the wisdom of the world. And this is what the young man learned. He had all the trappings of wealth, a penthouse, sports cars, fine clothes, women etc but none of these things really filled the terrible emptiness in his heart.
He was on crack cocaine, had a terrible drinking problem and was very promiscuous. And he was working a club. One night he saw some of his gang's members watching him and he hit a man with a knuckleduster to impress them. And he thought, "I think I have killed this man." And he didn't care, because the only thing he wanted was to impress his gang.
But this event played on his mind and his conscience reproached him. He began to ask himself, "What have I become, that I could kill a man and not even care?" And in his torment he prayed, for the first time. "All my life I have taken from you God; now I want to give."
John visited his mother and she told him that she had prayed for him every single day. She said she had prayed a novena to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, because she was so worried about the person her son had become. And it was on the ninth day of the novena that John experienced his change of heart and prayed for the first time.
John was given a Bible by his stepfather and opened it. It fell upon the following story:
A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance. And not many days after, the younger son gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance by living riotously.
And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country, and he began to be in want. And he went out, and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father's house have plenty of bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and I will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not now worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And rising up, he went to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him, fell upon his neck and kissed him.
And the son said to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee: I am not now worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants: Bring forth, quickly, the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: Because this, my son, was dead, and is come to life again: he was lost and is found.
John Pridmore decided he would go to Confession and amend his life. So he went, and the hand of absolution on his shoulder was Christ's hand. Fr Pridmore asks, "How do you personally meet Jesus? If you want to personally meet Jesus, go to Confession and be completely honest." Christ always comes to us when we are in humility.
The convert reflects on what the fatherhood of God means to him. It is like a father devoted to his son who has started school. And he says to his son, "I will always be there for you." And every single day, his father is waiting by the gate to pick up his child. Then one day there is a terrible earthquake and the school is reduced to rubble. The father rushes to the school but the children are given up for dead. The building is just a pile of rubble, with the children buried underneath it.
The father starts removing the rubble and the people think he is crazy. But he continues, even as night falls. People join to help him but after dark they say he should get home and get some rest, that a rescue cannot be undertaken in the dark. The father does not listen. He continues desperately to remove the rubble. He works right through the night, constantly screaming out his child's name.
Then finally, just before dawn, a feeble voice is heard from underneath the rubble. And minutes later, the father is holding his son, who is still alive. And other children are pulled out alive too.
"See?" says the child. "I told you my father would be here!"
So the neophyte had been to Confession and was ready to give to God, but then he had to come to terms with the Church's teachings about the Eucharist. And, to be honest, he just did not understand it. So he asked God, "If this is truly You, Jesus, then show me, because I don't understand."
His understanding now is, that the one true Church on earth is where Christ's Body dwells.
It is through giving that we receive. If we give people the truth, we give them the choice to choose. But if we don't give them the truth, we don't give them a choice.
If only we could see ourselves as God sees us. If only we could love ourselves as God loves us. If only we could forgive ourselves as God forgives us.