The memorial card fell out of my Morning Prayer book yesterday.  I can’t remember the last time I had seen it.  In fact I had forgotten it was even there inside the back cover.  It landed face up and I noticed his smile.

Strange how the mind can move back through time and resurface long-ago moments even as you feel again the emotions and pains you felt then.  As I picked up the card, I saw him sitting in the chair on the other side of my desk.  I saw the tears in his eyes and heard the catch in his voice as he told me that would probably be the last time we would meet.

He had been stopping by to chat from time to time since he was a 4th grader.  Sometimes he talked about what was happening in school.  Sometimes it was about music or poetry or something or someone he cared about.  Mostly I listened.  As he spoke he would look at me for any sign of non-acceptance or negative judgment.  And we talked about faith and how God loved him as he was.

That’s what we talked about the last time, about love and his growing conviction that in spite of what many were saying, God was the only one who did love him.  He thought the rest of the relationships in his life had to end or had already ended.  If he couldn’t love the one he wanted to love he didn’t see what purpose life could hold for him.  He planned to spend time alone with God.  The tears came when he said that this would be “goodbye” at least for a while.  He assured me that I would hear from him again somehow, someday.

That day my assurances didn’t matter.  Neither did my affirmations of his gifts and talents.  He said he had to make this journey his way.  He turned and waved at me as he reached the bottom stair and started up the sidewalk and away.

Could it be nearly 20 years ago?  The date on the back of the card would indicate that.  Times and mores were different then.  What had broken him and sent him on his quest was the lack of acceptance of him as a gay person.  He was angered to hear the judgment that he was essentially degenerate or disordered or whatever other “dis” was applied to his orientation.  The scorn he felt from society in general he felt from many in the Church.  The message he heard was that the only way he could be a good Catholic and receive Holy Communion and have any hope of getting to heaven was to live alone and celibate.  Otherwise, hell waited for him.  Thinking back, I marvel that he was able to cling to the conviction that God accepted and loved him.

I’m reminded of the young and horribly disfigured burn victim I sat with in his hospital room.  A little girl wandered into the room and when her eyes adjusted to the dim light she saw his face.  She screamed and ran from the room.  He looked at me and asked, “Does God think I am ugly, too?”

As a Church, as a society we can be judgmental and condemning.  Some are acceptable; some are not.  We are far from a classless society.  The elite are on the top rung of worthiness and success.  The poor are at the bottom.  Then there are the questions of racism and sexism and fundamental rights demanded by the dignity of the human person.  There is little evidence that we believe we are one family of individuals made in the image and likeness of God, loved by God, unconditionally and forever.

Pick whatever category you like from the above classifications.  Pick the one you are most tempted to hold in distain.  Then dare to imagine yourself as one of them.  Hear the judgments and condemnations, the racial or sexual or homophobic slurs – if you dare.  If you do, you just might begin to see things differently.

We have to see things differently if we are to be true disciples.  Jesus set the bar very high and commanded that we reach it.  He didn’t suggest this or that way.  He commanded doing it if we would be his disciples.  He commanded our living love.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  By this will all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.  Love one another as I have loved you.  If we see ourselves as servants rather than dominators of any class or any one, we might come closer to the mark.  And if the message that goes out from us is, God loves you and so do we, a change that allows reconciliation just might begin.  What a wonderful day it will be when the church is criticized the way Jesus was, when tsk tsks are voiced against us for welcoming sinners and celebrating Eucharist with them.  I nearly forgot.  We’re all sinners aren’t we?  Sinners loved by God and forgiven through the Blood of the Cross.

My young friend walked out that day smiling through his tears.  He went into the wild of the Cascade Mountains alone.  Some weeks later foresters found him in a makeshift tent.  A notebook lay beside him.  He had written quotes from several sources.  One I read stands out: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord.”

Another: “Judge not least you be judged.”

Another: “Be kind to one another.”

And: “Until we meet again, know that I love you.”



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