You Have To Meet the Man

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.1

One nice thing about going to daily(ish) Mass is hearing about the saints, who I usually can’t even be bothered to talk to, much less read about. We’re under no obligation to do any of the above, of course, which is like saying that the son of a rich man could chew on corn cobs and sleep on a bed of hay, if he preferred to do so. Which of course we frequently do.

When I participate in any kind of daily liturgy, whether it’s the Mass or the Office, I try to remember that the readings for the day might very well be custom tailored to me, might be just exactly what I need to hear, if I have ears to hear it. That’d sound egotistical if we didn’t know the kind of love God has for us, which is — I keep reminding myself — intensely personal.

Today is Saint Luke’s day. The name always makes me think of Brother Lucas, who belongs to the order I stayed with for three months in Peru, back in ’08. My first memory of him is, in a sense, the first time I understood what the order was all about. We were sitting down to dinner and he was talking in Spanish; another brother, Br. José María, translated for me.

From the tone of Br. Lucas’ voice, I would have assumed he was discussing the weather, or the dogs,2 or a trip he had made into town. But the words coming from Br. José María were intensely personal: “It took me a long time,” he was saying, “to be able to offer up to God the blessings he gave me and the good works I did. But then He told me He wanted something else. I couldn’t believe it: I said, No, no, no! Because” — Br. Lucas took a big breath here — “He said that He wanted my sins, too.”

Was this standard dinner conversation around here? Was this, maybe, just what most Peruvians were like? A qualified “yes” to the first and a definite “no” to the second: one of the marks of the order was the sharing of interior lives to a degree I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. But apart from them, Peruvian men aren’t generally big on sharing their feelings.

Mostly it was just Brother Lucas being Brother Lucas.

Brother Lucas is a big man: before joining the order, he used to coach high school crew teams. His voice is deep and rich and he has round, muscular shoulders, but I was always surprised how easy it was to talk to him: surprised because you wouldn’t think somebody with such a face, The Face, would be easy to talk to.

About a month into my visit, I was frustrated: there were some English speakers around, but most of the conversation was in Spanish, and although I spoke some of it, I always felt left out no matter how much the others tried to include me; and then of course if I noticed they were trying to include me, I felt awkward about that. It was an emotional place in general, too: you try sitting for three hours a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and tell me some crazy stuff doesn’t come bubbling up from your heart.

So I was wandering around the grounds after dinner, 4000 miles from home and feeling every inch of it, when Br. Lucas saw me and asked what was wrong. “I’m sad,” I said in Spanish, “because everybody’s always talking, talking, talking, and I don’t understand anything!” and then I burst into tears.

He sat there with me for a little bit, and then said slowly and clearly: “Steve. Tu hablas Castellano muy, muy bien.3 He said it in Spanish, of course: making a gift not only of the words, but of the way he said them.

Whenever I ask myself what Christianity is all about — what difference it all makes, how it is that Jesus came to save us and yet here we are, profoundly un-saved — I remind myself: the only reason people like Br. Lucas exist is because Jesus came. There’s no other explanation for him than that Jesus lives in and through him. I know it doesn’t come through from two little stories. You’d have to meet the man.

Which applies to Jesus, too: you have to meet the man. When it comes to answering our deepest questions, words won’t do. Only a Person will.

1 From the Responsorial Psalm for today — Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.
2 They owned 6 German Shepherds, whom they trained assiduously. Naturally Br. Lucas with a German Shepherd always made me think of St. Francis.
3 “You speak Spanish very, very well.”

11 Comments on “You Have To Meet the Man”

  1. RH says:

    speaking of the readings being meant for you–I sat down a few weeks ago to do morning prayer, while I nursed my baby. And guess what the second psalm was? “Oh that you may suck fully of the milk of [Jerusalem’s] comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!…As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you….” And this morning, a few weeks later, I sat down to pray my morning prayer and offer it for my sister-in-law who just had a baby, and what do you know? Full cycle to the same psalm again. Nice, huh?

  2. RH says:

    Although I think it’s good to remember, too, that sometimes the readings are NOT meant for you. When I’m depressed or just in a bad mood, a lot of times the readings sound like they’re yelling at me, and I have to remind myself “no, that’s not what Jesus really means, and he’s not talking to you right now!”

  3. jason taylor says:

    The theological implications of sainthood are tricky me being an evangelical(yes I know or can look up the Catholic position and no I do not wish to refight the Thirty Years War) but they do have one thing nice about them, which is to provide examples from different walks in life for people to identify with. Sooner or later one can always find in the rolls someone that can reflect God to you personally. Even if you are an Evangelical.

  4. jason taylor says:

    By the way, who is the patron saint of hyper-educated, impractical, absent-minded, bookworms like me?

  5. @Jason, probably St. Thomas Aquinas. 🙂

    Steve: this was beautiful. And so very, very true. I will be using this in my Christology class very soon. Thank you!

  6. jason taylor says:

    You’re right, Christina, he might do at that!

  7. Ima says:

    Jason, how about St. Thomas Aquinas? Do you know the story about when he was invited to the King’s table but his mind was on his debates with the Manichees, and during a silent moment, forgetting where he was, he pounded the table with his huge fist and shouted, “And THAT will settle the Manichees!”

    Fortunately King Louis was a holy man too, and he sent for someone to bring Thomas a tablet to write down the argument before he forgot it!

  8. Melissa says:

    @RH: Yeah, my life got a lot less crazy when I realized that, too!

  9. Jake says:

    This comment may seem somewhat inappropriate, and I apologise if it comes off that way but how do you control your sexual desires? And are you still attracted to men? Also why are you gay if God didnt want you to be? I’m gay myself and I’m struggling with my spirituality. I know that I can’t be gay and christian but everything within me wants to get a boyfriend and eventually settle down and adopt children with him. I just don’t see why God would let people suffer all through their life with holding back their feelings.

    1. A lot of big questions, and all very good ones. I think a lot of my posts try to answer exactly these questions, although maybe none of them do it sufficiently. I consider my life an extraordinarily blessed one. Please do send me an email if you want to talk further about any of it! steve[dot]gershom[at]gmail[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.

  10. Mark from PA says:

    Jake, you say “I know that I can’t be gay and Christian” but this is not true. To me it is unChristian to tell someone that they can’t be a Christian. God loves you the way that you are. He made you and you are His child. Do not feel that you have to apologize for this or for the way that God made you. Try not to be afraid of or ashamed of your feelings. Let go and let God.

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