(this is dedicated to Bob Re and all the Good Police of New Jersey)
My Father-Brother, Pope Francis,
Of all of my blogs so far, the one which attracted the most attention was my letter to you. Some have asked, “When is your next letter?” So, i say to myself, “That’s easy! i could write a letter to him every day!!” There is so much i have to say to you – EVEN IF YOU NEVER READ IT! It sure feels good anyway. Perhaps i should just change this whole site to CARTAS A MI PAPA, LETTERE AL MIO PAPA, LETTERS to MY NEW DAD! Some have said to me, “Boy, you have a lot of nerve!,” then added, “Good for you.” Why shouldn’t i write to you, especially given the man you are. Hey, maybe some day you’ll shock me with an answer?????
In America we have this saying, “Where were you when Johnny died?” It’s probably the same in your country, “What were you doing when Evita died?” You were a teenager at the time. Ours is asked about our dear young President Kennedy, killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963. i was old enough to remember the moment, all of the nuns in my school crying their eyes out.
We also ask the question in reference to John Lennon, who was killed December 8, 1980, at 10:50 EST. It happened on the corner right across the street from where we greeted you in Central Park. Many more of us, and millions more around the world, recall just where they were when the shocking news came down. i myself have the most vivid of memories, as i was “doing a bit of dying of my own.”
It had been one of those crazy days, when one wonders just what his God is up to?!?! Only six months ordained at the time – but a full-fledged priest after 12 years of preparation – i had given a day of prayer and reflection in a high school in South Jersey. It was a yucky day, so cold and rainy, as i headed home to New York. Dec. 8, it was a Day of Our Lady, our Mother Mary (but even she went into hiding from me.) On the way north my car kept breaking down, and for hours i was abandoned to the elements. Events got worse and worse, and finally they culminated in this nearly frozen young friar-priest that night knocking on the door of not one but two convents, seeking help. Eyeballs appeared behind curtains, but not a door or window would open. The same sad result was found at not one but two holy rectories. Only Eyes…looking fearfully, refusing to believe that the shivering young man with the beautiful Roman collar could indeed be a priest.
i remember so clearly what i was did next – just when Johnny was heading home from his studio – i fell to my knees in the freezing rain in front of a moving police car on Main Street in Burlington. i think there may have been a tear or two by then? The arresting officer (lol, for this vagrancy) tried first to comfort my mind, reminding me that my fellow priests and religious were “ODD, but ONLY HUMAN…” i remember what he said, as i wrote it all down when i got feeling back into my hands.”It seems to me the Church is full of crazy people; maybe we should laugh a lot more!” He also said something which St. Francis used to say, “If those nuns and priests are always so worried about robbers, why don’t they get rid of so much valuable stuff, and then they wouldn’t have to live in fear.” The cops at the precinct then all pitched in, got me dinner, then drove me to a nice motel and paid for a room for the night. Oh, what a night, the night that Johnny died!
One reason why it’s all as if just yesterday is that i wrote down every bit of it in a letter of complaint to the local bishop. A letter which i never sent. Instead i kept thinking of the holy wisdom of that policeman, got a great laugh and also a Great Sermon for that Christmas, having my own taste of “No Room at the Inn.”
Holy Father, soon after you became the Pope, you announced that your Church “will be a field hospital to treat the wounded” of the Church and of the world, wounds of every kind. At the same time you put out a cry for help, an “all hands on deck,” so to speak, telling us that this is the work of everyone in the Family of God. i can assure you that this little ex-friar, ex-priest, had been already busy at such work for many many years. Even now, though you are so far away – and we Americans must never let you be “out of sight, out of mind” – i, for one, feel SO CLOSE TO YOU, almost as if we are side-by-side in this mission to heal.
If one were to ask whether there is a pre-requisite for this job, i can hear you saying, “Only a caring heart.” But, then you might very well add that it would certainly help if the healer was also one of the wounded. How beloved the modern spiritual classic, “The Wounded Healer,” by Fr. Henri Nouwen, another man like your Thomas Merton who wrote of how wonderful it is to be human, even with all of the cracks! Only we who were so wounded can truly sympathize. For 35 years i have laughed about that night, but it was no laughing matter, was it? To learn firsthand just how heartless my Church can be!!! But listen to the wise officer who knew what hurting knuckleheads we all are. If only we can ask forgiveness and freely give it over and over and over and over, then we can LAUGH from our very depths, the way you do, dear Father!
i know that you like to TOP IT ALL OFF with the words of St. Paul to the Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of Grace to receive Mercy…” i know that this is the Bottomless Well of your Joy.
Until next time, Pope Francis, i’ll be out in the field…with you…
your loving knucklehead