Wars are raging; politicians are lashing out at one another nationally and globally. Nations are angling for power and undemining one another in ways that generate economic and social turmoil. Peace is an elusive ideal found only in the most optimistic and perhaps naive hearts. In the midst of these realities, the Gospel message still speaks: “Love one another as I have loved you.” These days offer the chance to do that, in even the most timid of ways, to somehow begin to stem the tide of adversity, violence and cruelty that has come to characterize this millennium.
As a Catholic, I remember the stigma that came with family size, family planning and the abortion issue. And as a Catholic, I remember a singular moment of awareness about how little I understood about the functions of the systems of the Church as an organization or hierarchy and how I knew even less about the actual practice of faith in daily life. I knew the customs: Mass attendance, the rosary, even scapulars, by name. But I had not yet found life in those customs. For me, learning how little I knew opened the door to curiosity and learning more. It was not strictly through books or research. It came through people.
There was Charlie, this neighborhood character of a certain age. I had seen him sorting through trash for bottles to re-cylce for the nickel. I had seen him work street to street, greeting the elderly, avoiding the landlords and crossing himself every time he passsed the block occupied by the Catholic Church. And I had seen him in church frim time to time, too. On a warm Sunday afternoon when I was standing on a corner by myself, he approached me. “I been wathcing you,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to live your faith. be true to your call.” He walked away and I was left to consider whether it was synchronicity in the universe or a moment of craziness.
There were my students. The school was adjacent to the Cross Bronx Expressway. In the middle of a lesson, they stood up as one body, all forty of them, and started reciting the Hail Mary. I just watched. Two days later, the same thing happened. I asked what they were doing. “Didn’t you hear the ambulance?” they said incredulously. “Someone’s in tourble. It is the least we can do..,” “We’re better off than they are,” another chimed in. “We can do a little something…” I stared at them. By and large, they were children of the poor, of inmates and tragedies. I wondered again about synchronicity.
There was a simplicity in those actions, in the interactions, that told me about what really matters in life. It was never about the Magisterium or its layers of rules. It was always about having the courage to dare to love on another, to be part of something greater than self, to wonder and wander with people who treasure the concept of a God who dares to journey with us. There is a stigma to being Catholic. Embracing it is part of the journey and the learning is just beginning.