The most remarkable thing happened this past Saturday night;
too remarkable to make into a cartoon.
Fr. Pfeiffer and I went to go see a play in downtown Cleveland and when
the play finished, we found ourselves in one of the very scenes of the play, unstaged,
out on the street.
To get the incident, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the
pertinent parts of the play.
It was a
staged production of C. S. Lewis’s book, “The Great Divorce.”
The story is a Dante-esque journey of a bus
load of people from hell getting the chance to see heaven and even stay there
if they chose so, but who ultimately chose to stay in hell.
One man feels that his rights were violated by
the mercy of heaven, a woman cannot let go of her control of others, one wants
fame more than glory, one wants her version of love rather than God’s, and the
list goes on.
In the end, these people
chose hell as a favored place to be.
When the play let out, it was apparent that at least one
other play had ended at the same time and so I suggested that we go across the
street and get coffee and desert while we waited for the traffic to thin
out. We debated the play and the points
made and then headed out.
Crossing the street there was a young man, (mid-twenties?)
who turned to us and said, “Are you two priests?”
“Yes,” I replied, and took off my glove and extended a
hand. “Hello, my name is Father
He recoiled as if I were handing him a snake. “No way!” he said, turned and kept on his way
to the other side of the street.
Things such as this happen occasionally. It is the sometimes blessing/sometimes curse
of wearing one’s collar in public. One
learns to let it roll off.
As we gained the sidewalk however the young man turned back
toward us and said, “You guys know, of course, there is no God.”
“Actually, I don’t quite know that at all.” I responded.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. There is no God. I know it.”
“And I would respond that there is one. And I know Him.”
“You know what I believe?
Not stories in a book.
Not people walking on
Not having to do good works that
a God tells me I have to do to get into heaven.
It’s all silly.”
I will give this much to the young man.
He may have been willing to throw out
comments such as this, but he was also willing to engage and have a
Many, if not most people
like to throw a comment-bomb and run it seems.
I admire him that he would be willing to have a debate in the middle of
the sidewalk in downtown Cleveland, late on a cold, cold night.
Everything in the objections-to-faith-including-the-kitchen-sink
arsenal was hauled out and thrown at us.
It was like a game of dodge ball but instead of the two of us playing
against one person, he was like a team against two! Question from left field, point from the right,
beaming ball right between the eyes.
The most interesting part of the conversation for me was
toward the end. “How do you determine
“We, each of us, get to decide for ourselves.”
Fr. Pfeiffer, “And what if I thought it was right to take
Young man: “That would be wrong.”
Me: “Good. Then how is it determined that your good is
better than mine?”
Young man: “Look, if
a guy killed five people robbing a bank, how could you say that that was
“The crook would think it just fine. He would have money he never had before and
if not caught might have a lot more stuff than he did before.”
Eventually we got to this point: there is no ultimate good,
no truth (unsubstantiated by facts) and no real purpose or point to life. It is simply what you make of it and decide
that it is. And when death comes, its
game over – end of existence.
“That being said,” added the young man, “You have to admit
that religion is what causes all the wars and violence in the world. Religion is what is wrong.”
“I would have to strongly disagree with you. As a matter of fact, I would say quite the
opposite in most cases.”
“It is religion that breads hatred,” he countered, “and
“And yet,” I replied, “when we were crossing the street,
which of us took off his glove, extended a hand, said good evening and
introduced himself, and who refused?”
At that, he broke out with a great smile, he shoulders
relaxed, and he extended his hand. “Sorry
about that. I think I needed to vent and
you were here.”
We learned then that his name was Mike and he turned out to
be quite a likable fellow. We parted on
friendly terms and Fr. Pfeiffer could not resist turning back to him and saying,
“Good night and God bless!” to which he threw up his hands and with a big smile
shot back, “No, no no!”