The Parish House is a very large and old building situated right next to St Vincent Church at the top of the hill overlooking the whole town. Upstairs there’s enough living accommodation to house five priests, and downstairs there’s a very large kitchen and dining room as well as other space used for administrative purposes and as meeting rooms.
Of course, now there’s only Father Ignatius and Father Donald living there; and their housekeeper who works there by daytime but lives in her cottage on the church grounds.
Many years ago a pre-school mother and toddlers group used to meet regularly in the large rooms downstairs. It was like a daily school really and at times it had as many as thirty children and enough adults to care for them.
The priest at the time, Father Ferdinand, of French origin, had three electric push-bell buttons installed by the front door, each ringing in a different tone. He labeled each button “Priests”, “School” and “Kitchen” so that he is no longer disturbed having to open the door for someone who really did not want to see him.
Very efficient Father Ferdinand was … albeit somewhat aloof from his parishioners at times. Unlike Father Ignatius of course!
As soon as Father Ignatius took over at St Vincent he removed the three labels but kept the bells which are still in working order.
On Friday, our friendly priest was at the local Catholic school as a visiting speaker at the Catechism class for the 15 year-olds.
After he gave his short talk, Father Ignatius invited questions from his young audience.
One of the pupils asked, “Why have you got three buttons to press the bell on the front door at Parish House?”
The priest was astonished at this somewhat unrelated question. In order to gain more thinking time, he turned the question back onto his audience. “Good question,” he said with a smile, “does anybody know why we have three bell buttons on our door at Parish House?”
“Variety is the spice of life!” said a young boy as the whole class erupted into laughter.
This encouraged another boy to say, “One bell is for tall people, one for normal people, and the other one is for the short ones who can’t reach the other two bells!”
Father Ignatius said nothing as the pupils continued to laugh.
This went on for a few minutes and eventually the children exhausted their reservoir of wit as one said, “It depends how in a hurry the visitor is. One bell is for urgent, another is for normal and the other is for people who can wait a bit!”
Father Ignatius replied, “If only it were so … I find that most people want to see me in a hurry.
“Those three bell buttons were there when I first came to St Vincent. All three still work. I’ve kept them as a reminder of the three bell buttons on the gates of Heaven.
“There are three buttons there just by the Pearly Gates … and depending on which one you press you go to Heaven, hell or Purgatory!”
“Wow …” said a young girl, “does one know which bell sends you to which place?”
“No!” replied Father Ignatius emphatically.
“That’s hardly fair …” cried out a boy, “what if you press the wrong button and go to hell by mistake?”
“No one goes to hell by mistake!” said the priest as he stopped for a few moments. Then he repeated again gently in a softer voice …
“No one goes to hell by mistake!
“The Good Lord knows precisely who believes in Him. Who has loved and obeyed Him in this life, and who has come to Him through His only Son Jesus Christ.
“He also knows too well who has continuously defied Him. Who has continuously snubbed Him, and who has continuously ignored Him in this world. Not through ignorance, carelessness or stupidity even, but through willful insolence and outright unwillingness to believe.
“The choice between Heaven and hell does not depend on which bell button you push. It depends on your state of sinfulness at the time you die.
“That is what really determines your eventual destination.
“And I repeat … no one goes to hell by mistake. People willingly choose to go there.”