Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Greetings friends,

Today we have a guest blogger (saving me from a tight schedule today.)  Mr. Ryan Mann is a seminarian for the Diocese of Cleveland.  I hope you enjoy his thoughts and that it spurs some thinking in your part of the cyberworld.

Last fall, while interning with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA in Washington D.C. a priest friend came to visit. One night, on our way to dinner, we were stuck in traffic - not surprising for the District. As I looked out my car window I saw a homeless man nestled into an abandoned store’s stoop. I turned to my friend and asked, “Do you think you could ever end up homeless?” With almost no hesitation he quipped, “No, I have friends.” I was silent with awe.
Over the next few weeks I shared this story with other friends in the area. Each one responded with a similar awe.  This priest’s response was so obvious and simple, and yet not one of us ever thought of it that way. After sitting with this for a while, I came to realize that my priest friend’s response was the right response (the point I am making here is not the cause of homelessness, but the nature of friendship revealed in my friend's comment).

Friendship isn’t simply a nice thing to have. Aristotle, for example, taught that friendship is necessary to become fully human. Without friendship virtue would be beyond our reach and life itself would be lonely and dull. And yet, as good Americans, my friends and I felt a very different ethos animating our bones and tainting our minds. This was the modern mind that sees an individual at the basis of all society, and tells us to depend on will power, ingenuity, and hard work to avoid situations like the homeless man. This worldview was at odds with the simple and enlightening answer of my friend, and I'm sure that is why it shook me up so much. He spoke from some other world, from some other place, and it was simple, profound and transforming.
This “other world” is none other than the Kingdom of God. This priest’s radical vision was Jesus’ vision. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus like Aristotle never does anything on his own. He is constantly referring to the most basic element of His existence, his relationship with the Father. Jesus says things like: “…the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” (Jn 5:19). On the Cross - a situation much worse than being homeless - Jesus sighed, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). He was not even going to die of his own accord. These pronouncements disclose that Jesus was not a modern American whose trust resides in himself. Jesus’ trust was in his Father and it was this relationship that made him so radical 2,000 years ago and continues to make him radical today.
The problem for most of us is that we have accepted a dangerously modern approach to life. Aristotle’s insights have been dismissed as antiquated and Jesus’ revelation is seen as weak and idealistic.  We are told to trust nothing other than our own ego and “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I assume this means that real men and women buckle down and think more, work harder and adapt. While hard work is not to be avoided and ingenuity is praiseworthy and good, we are not saved by our efforts but by grace, by the community where Christ lives, the Church. This way of being in the world is mysterious and strange, but mystery and strangeness is the nature of Christian living.
It’s something of this mysterious way of being in the world that my priest friend knew and revealed to me.  He knew friends are there to laugh with and challenge you to grow, but in a revolutionary way he also knew that in those painful and tough times friends are there to help you. When we are most vulnerable and in need of help we don’t need to do it alone. I never thought I’d be homeless, but now, because of a friend, I know why.


Anonymous said...

Ryan is most sensitive, and his priest friend offers good advice. Friends are invaluable . . . thank God for friends.


gw said...

Nicely written Ryan. You've given me food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

mim said...

Please bear with me, Ryan, I'm a stranger to this blog, but I don't think this post can be approved with a simple "Nicely written." This post raises questions that you'd better think about and pray about - hard - before you're entrusted with the care of souls.

There are just too many people who cannot say what your priest friend said. Some have friendships that depend heavily on economic equity, and destitution can strain those friendships to the breaking point. As Jimmy Cox wrote, "Nobody knows you when you're down and out ... but if I ever get on my feet again, then I'll meet my long-lost friends."

And some are not even that well-supplied with friends - they're friendless. Go to the Friendship Blog and you'll find heartbreaking stories of those who have no friends and have given up hope of ever having any. A Lutheran pastor I know says that he's known others similarly in despair.

When some such person pours out his despairing heart to you - someone who is serious about following Christ and becoming a better person - what are you going to say to him? That he can forget about amending his life, or acquiring virtue, that if he only had the right attitude, he could go out and make a friend? To say that would be cruel would be an understatement.

If you don't know how to address such a predicament, think about it, talk about it, ask God for wisdom. Whatever you do, don't be a minister of despair.