Love and Salvation
The drama troupe I was with was rehearsing in a Methodist church in the suburbs. It was a Saturday afternoon and the rehearsal had just ended. As we were heading to our cars, a young woman, very skinny with bleached blonde hair came out of the church in tears. The pastor followed behind her.
"Get out, then! I have nothing further to say to you!" he exclaimed in a loud voice - his pastor's voice - and turned abruptly back into the church.
The other actors rather sheepishly got into their cars, but my eyes were on the young woman. She was about my age and looked a bit wild, rather desperate. She headed into the woods next to the church and was making a trajectory for the highway.
I followed her.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Are you all right?"
She stopped. She turned. She looked at me, her eyes burning. "I'll never talk to that son-of-a-bitch again!" she said.
"Are you all right?" I repeated.
She looked back toward the highway. She seemed to be planning to throw herself in front of a car.
She looked back at me.
"Do you believe in God?" she said.
"Do you believe in God?!? Be honest with me! I need to know!"
"Well ... I'm not sure. I think there could be something. I'm not sure. Are you OK?"
"I'm having some trouble. I'm - my life ... "
She was crying. She looked hard, street weary, maybe homeless. I could only guess why she had made her way to this affluent suburban church, and how she somehow approached a pastor who was known to all of us who rehearsed there to be a less than honorable or trustworthy individual.
We talked for a bit. I wanted to engage her in some sort of conversation. Why was no one from the church following me? Why did they all get in their cars? I kept asking myself.
"Look, I've considered myself an atheist, but I don't really know. If you don't believe in God, I can't say that I blame you. Life is more complex, more amazing than any of us can imagine ... and the things people like that tell us ... "
She was listening to me. The panic was dissipating. She was no longer halfway moving to the highway.
I glanced up the hill to the highway, over her shoulder, through the woods, and saw two policemen coming down.
"Stay right there, ma'am," they said, and in a friendly way managed to gain her trust, calm her down, and escort her to their cruisers.
I watched them take her away.
I walked back to the church and found my director. "Did you see that?" I asked.
"Oh, she was just crazy," he said.
I felt like demanding, "Why didn't you follow me? Why didn't anybody follow her? Why was she thrown out of the church in a state of panic like that, when she could have done herself harm?" But I was only 19, and I didn't know quite how to say things like that to a man I respected - my director, who was the music minster and who worked under the pastor's supervision.
I have not thought of this incident in almost 35 years.
I tell it not to make myself seem like a hero, for I myself have been similarly desperate and similarly helped. And I only followed her because I recognized something in her eyes that I knew rather intimately myself.
I tell it for one simple reason. I tell it because we are all in pain.
We are all in a long screaming panic of pain, seeking God, wandering through the woods, contemplating desperate things. The diversions and the good times take our mind off things, but we desperately need one another. We hunger for love - and even if we can't find God as God, we can find Him in a kind and simple deed. We can find Him in love.
If we are to evangelize, we cannot do it with contempt. We must first realize that we are all starving. Starving for love. And evangelization - even for an atheist - begins with that.
Let us pray ...
To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.