Alone in his study, a parish priest reads through his mail. He notices that one of the letters has no return address; he opens it and begins to read. The voice of the writer, an old man, becomes the narrator of the story. He thanks the priest for a wonderful Christmas day sermon on the truth of the supernatural. He explains that because of the homily, he believes the priest will understand the story he is about to tell.
In 1939, when he was seven years old, his mother died tragically. He was a very a sick child. His father was devastated at the loss of his wife, and left him mostly in the care of a Nurse, a hard woman. Living in a huge mansion, far from town, the boy too was so grief stricken that his health worsened. To make it easier, he would trick himself into believing that his mother was there. But she wasn’t. At night he would cry himself to sleep thinking about her, remembering the happy times when he experienced her love. One night, his anguish overcame him; it was almost too much to bear. Then something incredible happened. His mother appeared standing before him. She took him into her arms, and sitting in a rocker by the fire, gently rocked him to sleep. This happened night after night for months. Whenever he cried out in anguish, she would come to him and he would always fall asleep in the same way, in her arms, with his head on her shoulder, but never seeing her face. One night the Nurse came into the room to check on him. But amazingly, she did not see his mother holding him by the fireside. It was as if they were invisible to her sight. Then his condition improved. This lifted his father out of his despair. Happiness began returning to the house. Then one final night, he saw her face. She was not his dead mother! Terrified at first, he struggled to break free from her. Then, he saw her beautiful face and recognized who she was. In place of his own mother, the Mother of Jesus had come to him. A new peaceful presence filled his heart, he kissed her hand, and soon after, she disappeared right before his eyes. He would never see her again.
The priest gets a phone call. He rushes by car to the same mansion of the little boy and finds the old man already dead. At the funeral, the priest looks into the eyes of the old man’s great grandchild and we hear his final words from the letter, “I know that I am an old man, and that old men are sometimes foolish. But it more and more seems to me that experience, as well as words, tells me that the great Kingdom of Heaven has a low and narrow door that only children can enter. Thus we must become little again and drop all our burdens, for someone who will comfort all our afflictions awaits us.”
ABOUT THE STORY’S AUTHOR:
Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) was the son of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson. His mother was named Mary. Ordained as an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1904. Joseph Pierce the English born author of celebrated books on Shakespeare, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others had this to say about him:
“Few stars of the literary firmament, either before or since, have shone quite so brightly in their own time before being eclipsed quite so inexplicably in posterity. Almost a century after his conversion, Benson has become the unsung genius of the Catholic Literary Revival.”
© Copyright 2014 Stephen Payne & Richard Payne