I got to know Fr. Sid Sidor in April of 2011. During my two years of the directing the Saint Don Bosco Latin Mass Community (now defunct), I had heard of him from one of the members of that community and met him once at a Knights of Columbus function at the parish to which I was assigned full-time. At the time, I thought him a different kind of priest and wrote him off.
But at this particular moment, I was looking for a good confessor with whom I could celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and I was willing to go with different. I had some things that I really needed to discuss about the state of my soul in a confidential setting with a priest who would be compassionate but also helpful.
I entered the confessional space, which was behind the altar in the sanctuary (this was a Eastern Catholic Church) and began to confess my sins, going into some detail about the circumstances behind them. When I reached the end of my confession, he looked at me lovingly and gently said, “Whatever you decide to do at the end of this year of leave from the priesthood, God will bless you, provided that you do it because you are seeking to become more godlike.” At this point, I was more than a little choked up and tears were running down my cheeks, so the most I could manage was a nod. Some of my recent experiences with priests had been with ones who were aggressive and a bit rough in dealing out counsel; I had come to expect this from all priests.
After a brief pause, Fr. Sid continued. “Did you hear about the patron of this church, Saint Athanasius the Great, when you were in seminary?” I nodded again and tried to smile. “Then you probably remember what he wrote, that ‘God became man so that man could become like God’?”
Still incapable of speaking, I nodded vigorously.
“You see, the Church does not exist to build more nice buildings or to have festivals or even to have beautiful churches. The Church exists for only one reason, to help people change and become more like God.”
From there, Fr. Sid went on to share some of the lessons that he learned in his many years. One of the most important things in the Christian life, he told me, was learning to forgive one’s enemies and let go of one’s resentments. It was also the most difficult.
That day I decided to make the drive every Sunday that I could to Saint Athanasius the Great for the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom for the rest of my leave.
Fr. Sid became a priest in his mid seventies after his wife died. Before that, he fought in two wars, had a family and was very successful manager in industry. But more important than these successes, he was a recovering alcoholic with more than fifty years of sobriety. He talked to me about what hitting bottom was like for him and all of the good that God had brought out of it. He also talked about the blessings God gives to those who try to work a spiritual program and really want to change.
Although I am not an alcoholic, this gave me great hope for myself.
He never asked me questions about my life outside of the confessional, but his years of working in military intelligence probably made it easy for him to see that I was suffering some interior trials. He took time to spend with me, and shared, often for hours on end, all of the lessons about human nature and God’s grace that he had learned in his more than eighty years.