River of Life

Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like a mighty stream. — Amos 5:24

Last week I saw a man with this t-shirt on during Mass and I immediately thought of a personal story from years ago. After Mass I chased him down and stopped him to ask if I could take a picture of his shirt. He graciously agreed. Gratefully, my children were not there. They would have fled.

The story…

I remember it vividly. Maybe 25 years ago I was sitting with my spiritual director for our bi-monthly session, and I was sharing the various trials and difficulties I was facing at the time. At some point in the conversation I said, “It’s really hard to focus on my spiritual life with crap like this going on. Can’t God cut me a break?”

He listened patiently, as he always did, but at a certain point when I paused for a moment he said, “Is that all?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “Tell me, what happened when you were baptized?” I muttered out a few theological points about forgiveness, being made a child of God and a member of the church. He said, “Yes, true. But more to your point today, you died. You were baptized into Christ’s death. On the cross. Do you know what that means for you?” I replied tentatively, “That I have to be more like Jesus?” He said, “Sure, that’s nice and non-threatening. It really means that you have to be willing to die. To let go of everything that keeps you from surrendering to God’s will. If you can only see these challenges as barriers, you’ll never be able to grow. Baptism’s no brook. It’s more like a raging river. You have to trust that if the river breaks you, flips you, knocks you around, it’s only to make you stronger, more trusting, more courageous, more humble. So, are you willing to die or not?”

I was a bit bewildered by his directness. “Yes, in theory,” I answered. He leaned toward me and looked straight into my eyes, “Well, Tom, if it’s in theory then we don’t need to meet anymore. We meet so you can become a saint, and you’re not going to become a saint by refusing to die.”

We sat in silence for at least a full minute. Then he said, “So? What’ll it be?” I looked down and muttered, “Okay, yes Father. I’m in.” He replied very matter of factly, “Okay, then, let’s get down to business.” He put on his stole and asked for my confession.

I love love love real fathers.

One comment on “River of Life

  1. Jennifer says:

    ‘It really means that you have to be willing to die. To let go of everything that keeps you from surrendering to God’s will.”…
    He leaned toward me and looked straight into my eyes, “Well, Tom, if it’s in theory then we don’t need to meet anymore. We meet so you can become a saint, and you’re not going to become a saint by refusing to die.”

    GULP! This is screaming my name (and making me feel faint)! Lord, give me the guts to not hide behind theoretical but to get down to the business of dying. Lord, make me a saint!

    Just wow.

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