You have stored my tears in your bottle.

Psalm 56:8


Every day I thank God for men who help me be a good man. What is a good man? Simply this: one who gives his life for the sake of others.

Emulating men with backs that bend has been an indispensable part of my journey. As a priest, however, it is easy to hide behind a public persona of self-denial. The challenge, as always, lies within one’s own spiritual discipline.

This is why I pray at night. Not often, but occasionally my alarm rings at 2 AM. I throw back the covers and light a candle beneath a barbed-wire cross that hangs on the wall. I pray a psalm. Then I listen to the silence. More often, the wind.

It is the celibate equivalent to gazing out the window for headlights of a car that should have pulled into the drive hours ago. It is akin to fetching medicine for a feverish wife. It is sharing the muscle-ache of parishioners on graveyard shift at the packing plant that night and the tedium of a long-haul trucker on I-70 crossing the plains of Kansas.  

At this hour, petitions yield to communion with minimal effort.

I ponder police patrolling the back streets in my backwater town; night nurses strolling darkened corridors of nursing homes; a rancher assisting the birth of a calf on a moonlit prairie. Tonight, however, I pray for my brother, a farmer, hospitalized earlier in the week. It could be his heart. It might be cancer. The doctors aren’t sure.

The candle flickers. 

I recall sharing a bedroom with him and two other brothers as a kid. I remember wrestling matches and corncob fights in the barn. I see him baling hay, chaff stuck to the sweat on his arms. He washes his car on Saturday because he has a date with Jane that night. I am the best man at his wedding and he among the best men in my life. 

The shadow of the Cross pricks the wall and I wait. For this is how men pray in the dead of night: not with words, but silent fears. Until Christ arrives, flask in hand. Not with whiskey, but for tears.


Previously published at Priesthood from the Inside Out (

12 / 10 / 2020
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