Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

On Father Luke, Years Add Only Warmth, Wisdom

Published January 26, 2006

Was it Freud who gave us the notion that we project on a person an expectation that may have little or nothing to do with the person in question? I think it was. Over the years I have heard it is a bad thing to do because then we do not deal with reality. I guess there is some truth to that. But then reality is never given as a naked, accessible “fact.” It is always clothed in something. There is no direct access.

I am sure that some projections are okay. After all, God made us all like that, prone to a parade of mentionable and unmentionable projections in every human encounter.

So I wonder why it is I so liked Father Luke from the first time I met him. And I remember that day—he stopped me on the stairs when I moved here to the main building and told me that he was the tailor and that he wanted to measure me for my postulant’s habit. He stepped back a bit, looked at me and smiled and proceeded to tell me my measurements, and when he was finished I knew that he was right, right to the inch.

It was only later that I would learn that he has one of the most amazing memories of anyone I have ever met. Dates, names, associations, events, arrivals and departures he retrieves with ease with what seems to be a lifelong love affair with life and with God. What is “here” is obviously important to him. And so he remembers—and when asked, retrieves with pride.

He is 94 years old.

I was a parish priest for many years before coming here. I learned to love old people, and I think they knew it. They were always the living wisdom and well-seasoned lovers of any parish in which I served. All that was young in the parish literally came from them. I liked to let them know that in any way I could. Our seniors have run the race and if they have run it well, we are the beneficiaries of their miles, their courage and their fortitude for hanging in there.

The first old person I can remember is my grandma, my dad’s mom. She was special. She lived with us her whole adult life, and I could write a book just on her. She was from New Orleans, did not advance past the fifth grade, and yet had a wisdom and love for life that blessed us for many years. She was an important role model for me. She was Lutheran, and I learned more ecumenism from her than I did from the courses I later took in the seminary. She knew that God did not differentiate between his sons and daughters, and that was a rule of thumb which prompted her to be delightfully blind to the walls that we so easily erect between people of differing beliefs, colors, nationalities and the like.

And so it is that every now and then I meet a person in whom is crystallized all the goodness that I have met in the elderly travelers who have blessed my life.

It is easy to project all that good onto Luke—because it is already there. What is real about him is, I think, more genuine than my projections.

He helps out in the infirmary several times a week. He dresses in what looks like a surgical gown and walks briskly toward the infirmary to tend to the men he has lived with for almost his entire life. He bathes them feeds them, comforts them, kids them and, I am sure, refreshes their memories when a date or time or person eludes them.

I have yet to see him “down.” He may complain every now and then of an ache or a pain, but it is never enough to banish his smile or mute his generosity.

I recently made my solemn profession here at the monastery, which is, I suppose, sort of like getting married to the lives here, for better or worse, rich or poor, till death do us part. Yes, that is close to what I said that day with my vows.

When I stood before the abbot, community, and my family and friends, I did so in a brand-new habit with a brand-new belt. And when I gave Luke a hug, I told him I loved him. I was acutely aware on that day as to how these men have clothed me with love and how all they ask is that I do my best to live the Rule with them—and so do my bit in letting something of God’s love come through me.

I felt new in many ways that day. I was dressed anew, made anew, brought to a new and good place in my life—all thanks to God through the men and women who have loved me and prayed me into the person—albeit weak person—that I am.

But weakness did not seem to matter that day. It did not show. I looked new. There were no wrinkles or creases.

Luke’s birthday was not too long ago, and he was a bit shy about it. He does not like fuss—and besides, someone in need may have been calling for “Dr. Kot.” He may have walked briskly past well-wishers on his way to the infirmary, looking happy, leaving behind whatever worries he has, so as to tend to the worries and cares of his brothers.

Is it a man like Luke who shows us that the warm tones of life shine in direct proportion to our years? I think so.

Thanks, Dr. Kot—life calls, and you answer so well.

I think God has remembered you in a special way. His memory makes things good, and he has an interesting way of projecting his desires onto us. How well you have worn the heart with which he clothed you.


Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at