Was feeling pretty down last week. Bullets you fire through your own feet can carry a bit of a sting. And great flaming walls of hate washing over you can also bring on the blues. So my assumption was that I would more or less curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself.
But God surprised me in multiple ways. The first surprise was a friend who came by the house and asked if we could talk. He’s a sweet, good, simple, humble soul, honest as the daylight and one of those people you just know is going straight to heaven when he dies.
Turned out his marriage was on the rocks. He was understandably leery of giving a lot of details, but he just… needed somebody to talk to. We walked around the block and he poured his heart and soul out. Just so broken. So fragile. Such a precious good man. You just felt all the pain in the world in his words. And my heart just went out to him, two screwed up people with nothing to bring to the table but “Help.” I felt such a kinship with him. He finished what he had to say and I embraced him and felt his shoulders heaving as a great gush of tears poured out of him. And I felt nothing but the pity of God for our broken race. It was a really precious thing.
We’ve bumped into each other a couple of times since then at Mass, a couple of losers sitting there while the Eye of God looks at both of us with nothing in our hands and no excuse for being there except that He says we can. We pray together. And it’s made me even able to pray with some sincerity (and not merely gritted teeth of obedience) for the people who have been pouring out the wall of flaming hate at me. That’s just more brokenness. We’re all so pitiable. The canyon between what we could be–happy, sane, productive, at peace, loved and loving–and this funhouse mirror thing… it’s worthy of tears and ocassionally even of laughter. The other day I got a letter from a guy who thinks Mengele and the SS are paragons of courage. He was ecstatic. How is that not both tragic and hilarious at the same time?
I once had a priest, a dear sweet, darling, charming old elf of a priest named Fr. Joseph Fulton. He was the most love-filled priest I have ever know. I used to joke that you could go into confession and tell him you’d sprayed a playground full of kindergartners with machine gun fire and he would say, “My dear boy, God loves you *so* much and he will gladly forgive your sins…” and by the time it was over you would come out feeling like a million bucks and ready to tackle the job of becoming a saint. Everybody loved him. He had a genius for bringing together groups in the Church who despised each other. He was the only charismatic Traditionalist I’ve ever known, and both charismatics and Traditionalists adored him. He celebrated the Dominican Rite Latin Mass for years at Blessed Sacrament and also led a charismatic prayer group for years. He was also responsible for bringing back into communion with the church people who had been very angry with the Church indeed.
And he was the quintessence of charm. When Fr. Michael Sweeney first came to our parish, a young and brilliant Thomist who was full of ideas and ready to talk High Theology, he came to Fr. Fulton’s room and was going to impress him with something Big Thoughts about Ecclesiology. Before he could get a word out, Fr. Fulton said, “My dear boy, what do you think about cats?” Fr. Michael was flummoxed. Years later, at his funeral, Fr. Michael remarked that he himself had been focused on abstractions, but Fr. Fulton was focused on real things: cats, for instance. And this was the heart of Thomism, the belief that God made and redeemed a real and concrete world though making the Word flesh.
Fr. Fulton had a deep love of Dickens. And he once confided to Fr. Michael that when he encountered people who were for whatever reason simply unlikeable (a rare occasion for this man so full of love) he would imagine they were a character from Dickens–and that made it alright.
That came back to me with the letter from SS Guy. I imagined him as a character from Dickens. Human. Loved into being and loved because he was loved into being. Absurd. Funny in his sad impotent fury. And yet not to be abandoned for all that. Not to be forsaken by God. No. It didn’t make me all warm and fuzzy. Nobody cozies up to Bill Sykes either. But it made me able to see the brokenness even there and hope for something better for the poor man–and for all of us pathetic losers whom God, in his mysterious passion for us, loves anyway.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us who are sinners.