I was raised Catholic – church every Sunday. But me being me, my Christian upbringing did little to sway my rambunctious adolescent behavior. Maybe it was my Irish blood, or maybe I was just a rotten kid. I got into fights. I talked back to my elders, and everyone who wasn’t my elder. I had an allergy to homework, and the uncanny ability to bring about strep-throat through sheer willpower on test days. I had great parents whose patience was constantly tested by my hell-raising nature. Looking back on it – they were saints. I, on the other hand, was a sinner…
After a small disagreement between myself and my sixth grade teacher, my elders felt it would be best for my education to henceforth continue at the parochial school on the other side of town. So for the next three-and-a-half years, that particular burden fell squarely upon the shoulders of the Archdiocese of New York State.
I’d like to say that my time in Catholic school was the remedy to my bad behavior and poor attitude. Unfortunately it was not. There were cigarettes smoked and fires started. There were still fights – sometimes with food, sometimes with fists, and sometimes with knives. And the talking back continued, only now there were nuns involved. When the opportunity was presented to return to public school to start tenth grade, I jumped at it. And when I did, I left the church behind.
I’ve never had much use for religion. I always found it to be too constricting. But I understand it well enough to know that I could never possibly understand it. I can’t comprehend the notion of an unseen, almighty “Father in the heavens.” I had a father. His name was Bill. He was all the father I needed, and far more than I deserved. I don’t understand how a person can have unwavering faith in something that they can’t put their hands on. But I can respect such a person, and I covet what they have. They have something in their heart that I don’t, and they feel a joy in their soul that I never will. I am well aware that “Thou shalt not covet…” is the tenth commandment. But what can I say? I guess I’m still a sinner…
Despite my struggles and my demons, there are some aspects of religion where I find solace, and I feel peace. I would like to share one of those aspects here with those of you spending your time reading this. It’s a story that I like very much. Admittedly, I did not write it. I stole it from American playwright Aaron Sorkin, who I’m sure stole it from someone else. I know – that’s another commandment I am in violation of. But I’m willing to gamble my immortal soul to share this story with you. And I hope that on this goodest of Good Fridays, it brings you that same solace and peace in earnest.
A man heard a radio report one day. An army was coming, and the town was in danger. All of the residents were told to leave their homes and find safety. But the man said ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’
The army came with their tanks and their guns. A guy in a pickup truck came along and he shouted, ‘hey, hey you! The town has been invaded by the army! Let me take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’
A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, ‘Hey you, you down there. The town has been overrun by the evil army! Anyone left is in grave danger! Let me drop this ladder and take you to safety!’ But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him, and that God would take him to safety.
When the shooting started, the man did not survive.
Standing at the gates of Heaven before St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?’ God said ‘I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a pickup truck. What the hell are you doing here?’
I don’t know why I like that story so much. Maybe because it contradicts perfectly with my hell-raising nature. Maybe because it reminds me of the lessons my parents taught me when I was young. Or maybe it just makes me feel safe. And you probably didn’t notice, but I made a few improvements over the way it was originally written. But like Aaron Sorkin said himself, “The best storytellers on the planet are Irish.”
I hope you have a happy Good Friday, and a really great Easter. Thanks for spending a few minutes of it with us today.