It’s four o’clock in the morning, and I’m wide awake, thinking about Fr. Sabbas, “Fr. Sabby” and the last telephone conversation we had a few weeks back. I phoned him to say hello, smiled about his ever changing tape machine recording that always brimmed with joy, playfulness. It was the longest greeting I’d ever heard.
He returned my call and said he was glad to hear my voice on his machine. Fr. Sabby could hold a conversation in person for hours, but he was never one for the telephone, and the ending was always an abrupt, chop suey goodbye that my husband and I laughed about. “I will go now,” he’d say. “Goodbye.”
Because of our friendship, I learned about the challenges of the priesthood and he learned about the challenges of family life. We learned that we were not so different at all.
He was born on December 5, 1935, in Bombay, India and said that when he was young, he got to know a priest who influenced his choice to devote his life to God through the priesthood, which he did when he was ordained on December 21, 1961.
We became friends about twenty years ago, when we were both new to our parish and my son, Matthew, was still hiding behind my legs. In one of our very human conversations, I confessed that I never knew what to do with the mountainous compilation of religious paraphernalia: prayer books, prayer cards, pictures and statues that people gave me throughout the years. Some were sent to me wrapped in rubber bands. I flipped through them, rewrapped them and put them in my nightstand where they remained.
Fr. Sabby laughed hard when I told him this.
I’d noticed that there was a small compilation of random booklets left on a ledge in the vestibule of the church. It wanted to start doing the same, but I felt guilty, like I was tying a pet to a firehouse, knowing that firemen were the sorts that saved lives. Dropping religious paraphernalia on the church felt like passing the holy buck, like “Tag, you’re it!”
Before the week was out, Fr. Sabby appeared at my front door with a sack, filled with holy medals and rosaries.
“What’s that?” Greg asked. “You’re not planning on leaving that here, are you?” Fr. Sabby laughed long and hard before he turned serious-faced and explained.
Whenever somebody died in the parish, the family brought him the rosaries and religious medals of the deceased. He was touched, but never knew what to do with all of them.
When I told my sister, Theresa, about the conversation, she mailed Fr. Sabby a fictitious advertisement for a long vest containing clear pockets in which he could proudly display all of his medals at once, generating great envy in others. He never forgot that.
In our last conversation, he remained on the phone longer than I recall, and I comb my memory now for each word. He said he’d compiled a lifetime of journals and asked if I’d help him put them together. I said yes, but we didn’t set a date. There was always going to be another chance, but I learned two nights ago that God had other plans.
So at 4:30 a.m., I flip through a shrunken treasure collection of writings for something he wrote, and I am thrilled that I found what I was looking for. The following poem was written more than ten years ago and he enclosed it in a Christmas card that he sent to friends:
The Master’s Plan by Fr. Sabbas Rodriguez
In a world full of darkness,
a LIGHT was visible on the distant shores,
from His throne, pulsating with energy and power,
the Lord of the universe, sea, sky, planets, and constellations
sent His messenger Gabriel on a Mission to that light
To woo, cajole a winsome lass of noble and royal Davidic descent
to speak to her of the Lord’s Design and Promise,
to seek her “Fiat” to a mystery hidden, from eternity
In His Heart, whereby He would fashion and give
His ONLY begotten Son,
to be in her womb, a ‘receptacle’ of Light
In her acquiescent and willing YES
she became the bearer of the Lord in Human FORM
so he could be the one to bring his Gospa to HUMANS
and say with clarion call, “I am the LIGHT of the world”
even as they strode towards His Radiance
Now He could say
I have come to let you know that you are precious in my sight,
I am born of Mary, My mother, who was there, and she gave me Birth,
so I could feel as you feel with a human heart
to see with human eyes the birds and animals,
the donkeys, sheep and goats
But most of all, to gaze on the FACES of my brothers and sisters
YOUR TEARS, and touch your pain.
I know that DEATH is in your midst, and needs to be destroyed and
But do not fear my brothers and sisters,
in your loneliness and sadness,
reach out to ME and Mary, my Mother, who is there,
in clinging FAITH, for indeed I am with you until the end of the world.
Thank you Fr. Sabby, for sharing your faith and your friendship with our family. We love you and will miss your presence on this earth.