My wife, son and daughter are all Catholic. I am not. I have, however, attended Catholic mass nearly every weekend for the past fifteen years. You’ve heard of non-practicing Catholics. I suppose I’m more of a non-Catholic practicing. I say the prayers. I sing the songs. I stand and kneel when I’m supposed to; and I believe I have both learned and grown from the experience. Why, then, have I not made my commitment “official?” That’s a discussion for another time; or perhaps not. I don’t generally share my views on religion or politics, at least not in mixed company. That said, if I might have your attention for just a few moments, I would like to share something that happened recently. It’s actually two somethings, and I’m not sure what, if anything, one has to do with the other. Both gave me a lot to think about. Maybe that’s the only connection.
A priest was dying. That’s what we were led to believe. At first, we didn’t know much about his condition. We later learned he had inoperable cancer in his leg and his lung. Chemo was prescribed with little hope it would do much good. So, we took up a collection for his care and his comfort, and I don’t think any of us really believed we’d ever seen him again. Thankfully, we were wrong.
A few months after we were given the dire news, the same priest showed up at the same church and gave a homily I know I’ll never forget. With a smile on his face, he spoke of his experiences in the hospital, about receiving treatment, about screaming, and crying, and praying for the pain to stop. Because of the damage to his leg, doctors told him they’d have to insert a steel rod in his thigh to hopefully prevent the bone from shattering. The procedure required some pre-op testing. Those tests revealed that the cancerous mass in his leg was gone. His doctors had no explanation, nor could they make sense of the fact that the inoperable mass in his lung had started to shrink. It wasn’t supposed to, but it was shrinking just the same. That priest was supposed to be on his death bed, if not already in the ground, yet there he was thanking us for our support and talking about the power of faith and of prayer. When you hear a story like that, it’s sort of tough to argue.
We now shift to a different church and a different priest. He began his homily with talk of the NFL playoffs. He had my attention at once. He marveled at the willingness, even the exuberance of the 64,000+ people who flocked to Green Bay in sub zero temperatures to witness a Wildcard Weekend showdown against the 49ers. Over 100,000 fans braved equally frigid temperatures to attend a recent NHL outdoor game. Frozen revelers jammed into Time Square New Year’s Eve totaled well over a million. It’s amazing, this priest observed, the sacrifices we’ll make if it’s a cause we believe in. But what if, instead of a football game, a hockey game, or the world’s largest symbol of the passage of time, we were asked to make that same sacrifice for our faith? Let’s say the last church service you attended was outdoors, with snow and ice and a wind chill around negative twenty, would you have been there to take your neighbor’s hand and recite the Lord’s Prayer? Well, would you?