Monday, June 15, 2015

See How They Love

I attended a talk by Dan Burke last night; he has written some wonderful books.  The first hour, however, he spoke of his conversion to Catholicism, a story I had not heard before.

Dan had a very abusive childhood, and at one point in his late teens he had reached a crisis point, and saw only two alternatives:  “Either I continue my life of torture and pains, or I end it.  And I sought the courage to do just that.” 

Then Dan told of two turning points in his life.

The first occurred when, as a teen, he worked in a pizza store, and the week it was his turn to clean the public restrooms --- “more fun in my life,” Dan quipped --- and then a young co-worker said to him: “That’s all right; I’ll do it for you.”  And he did, and he did each time Dan’s turn came around.  Dan thought the man was nuts – “or a homosexual, making a play for me.”  But evidentially Dan found out that the reason for his kindness was “because I’m a Christian, and this is what we do for others.” 

“Yeh,” Dan said; “He was nuts.”

But it made Dan think of all those people who said God mattered in their lives, and so he began a search for God and truth, a long one, which took him through many religions and cults – some of which preyed on the pains he felt.  He eventually reached Christianity and the Southern Baptists, where among other things he learned how stupid Catholics were.  Later he discovered Evangelical Christians had a better view of Jesus, and eventually he joined Chuck Dobson and Focus on the Family for 15 years.  While working there he learned to enjoy ribbing the only Catholic on the staff.  He liked to spend time thinking up insults and put downs, telling her how stupid she and her religion were.  “It was great fun, and she never sniped back, which made it even better” -- until the second critical turning point in Dan’s life.

There came a day when the Catholic woman chose to leave Focus on the Family, and there was an office retirement party for her.  “I didn’t pay much attention to the gathering, but at one point someone came to me and said I was wanted at the party.  I went to the gathering, and was asked to sit on one of 5 stools at the front.  Then the woman, laughing, told those gathered how I and 4 others had often laughed at her crazy religious beliefs. 

And then she became very serious as she said:  ‘I want to thank you for that.  It made me look deep into my religion and to Jesus for comfort and answers … and I found them.’”

“And then she washed my feet.”

Dan didn’t become a Catholic until years after that incident, but he never forgot it.  “The world is a dark place now; there is even dissention within the Catholic Church.  Everyone thinks they know the answer to everything.  And Christians are laughed at --- and killed.  These days, mere words won’t convert anyone.  If we want to evangelize in this world, we need to remember the actions of Jesus and the woman who washed my feet.  Radical love: that is what will turn hearts and minds in this world.  The question is:  Can we humble ourselves THAT much, to love that much?”

The room was silent.

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Earlier yesterday, a discussion group turned to the story of St. Francis and the wolf which was killing the residents of the town of Gubbio.  Francis eventually brokered peace between the wolf and the town, and we discussed the lessons to be learned from the story.  Certainly there was a trust in God, and there was humility, but a key point of the story --- often not discussed --- was the need for both parties in the dispute to change.  The wolf was right in his behavior, as were the people; and each was confident of their needs and their justice in fulfilling them.  But with trust in God, humility, and conceding to the need to change so that they might live together, they found peace.

Peace came through a radical love: a giving up of self.

Dan Burke saw that radical love in the woman washing his feet, and he was open to change.

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At mass this morning we said “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”  Lamb of God:  a love unto death.  Was there ever a more radical love?  His death brought justice to the Father.  It brought mercy to us sinners.  It was a most striking, humble love.  Roman historians, in speaking about Christians, wrote of the most strange and radical thing that they noticed about them:  “See how they love one another?”

The Gospel today was again on Matthew, chapter 5 (v38):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil.”

Do not resist?  Can there be a more radical response to evil, a more striking one?  Dan Burke’s response to evil, in his youth, was to run away and contemplate suicide, but he learned a better response was as shown in Jesus’ washing of feet: a radical love, in response to hate.

“But what about justice?” the priest said after reading this Gospel this morning.  “What must be sought,” he explained, “is merciful justice.  We must pray for merciful justice in this world.  We must live with merciful justice.  Jesus died, for us, in merciful justice.”

That is how we must love, and evangelize, and hope to change this world.

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The hymn sung at the consecration today was:  I have decided to follow Jesus.

… What a radical thing to say.   

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