Brennan Manning relays this…
Joseph was an old man dying of cancer in New Jersey. This gentleman’s daughter has asked the local priest to come and pray with her father at her home where he was in hospice during what might be his last days. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” the man of the cloth said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh, yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, the priest shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally, I said to him in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’
“'Here,’ says my pastor reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’
“Well, Father,” said the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered, ‘for nothin’.’
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, ‘I’ll be with you all days.’ Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’
“So, Padre, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day, even now while here at my daughter’s home. I’m careful, though…if she saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on that journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon, finally succumbing to his painful battle.
“Did he die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead.”
“But there was something strange, Father. In fact, beyond strange, kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on the chair beside the bed.”