25 March 2008

The Lost Sheep

It is Christ's command to His Church that all of us must do what we can to bring home those who are lost and have strayed from the Church. It is one of the most difficult and important tasks we are given. It is also one of the most humbling.

I was going to write about my experiences on Holy Saturday, leading the co-worker for whom I have been requesting prayers and his girlfriend around Toronto, showing them some of our churches. I believe he is searching for a way to come back, and I am trying, with God's help, to show him a way, or ways. But instead I will write about the first time I thought to help someone come back, and how the effort ended in failure.

I am the only practicing Catholic in the place where I work. Among the co-workers, the Church is something of a joke, particularly among the three lapsed Catholics. Of those three, two are almost perpetually stoned, and they gave up the Church for pot. They have no inclination to even try and come back. As I said, the Church is a source of amusement for them, and that amusement forms a powerful barrier around their hearts. I have found no way through. So, pray for them, and those like them.

The third lapsed Catholic has a sense of irony and contempt about him. He is a very educated man, comes from Germany, is married, has no children, wants none. He feels some respect for me because I am also an educated man, and therefore he feels I am someone to whom he may speak.

It began with a cd of the music of Thomas Tallis that came to our store. "What's this?" he said to me. "Who is this Tallis?"

I took the cd from his hand and saw to my delight it had Spem in Aleum on it. I explained to him a little about the music, and how Tallis had written an almost unique 40 part motet, and a little about the beauty of Renaissance polyphony. I kept the cd to purchase it, and thought no more of it.

The next day he greeted me from his desk as I walked in. "I never knew such music existed!" he said. "This must be what heaven sounds like." After hearing me say how wonderful the music was, he had bought another copy of the cd for himself. He was soon spending his spare time at work surfing the web for any information on Tallis, Renaissance Polyphony, and any other related topic.

Around that time, Benedict was elected Pope. By then he and I frequently discussed religion, and he was easing a little in his contempt for it. When Ratzinger was elected to the papacy he was at first appalled, for all he knew of the man was his reputation as the panzerkardinal. But as he saw the great Masses- first of the burial of John Paul and of Benedict's installation- he warmed up a little. The pageantry and the pomp and circumstance appealed to him greatly. He began to look into the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger, and his writings as Benedict XVI and he began to develop some respect for the man. "He would have made a wonderful professor," he told me more than once. That is perhaps his highest compliment.

I didn't push things, for I believed pushing things would not work with him. Baby steps, I told myself. Baby steps. The coworker began to reminisce about his days back in Germany as an altar boy. He missed the Latin language (he studies Latin to this day) and he loved the newfound polyphony, as well as the old chant. He wished he could hear it again, but he thought there was no where in Toronto to hear it. Here's where I really stepped in, because I knew where both the Latin and the music are done, and done well: the Oratory.

I laid out all the information before him. Where to go, when to go, how to get there- everything I could think of. But here the most powerful physical force in the universe was working against me: inertia. An object at rest stays at rest. Getting up and going to church seemed like a nice idea, and he wanted to go, or part of him did, but he liked sleeping in on Sundays, liked playing with his computer games. I prayed, kept him talking, and waited. I thought things may be going well.

It all crashed down when Pope Benedict published Jesus of Nazareth. The coworker didn't read the book. Instead he read a review written in German. As is rather typical of him, he absorbed the first opinion he heard as the correct one, and never bothered to read the book. "That book is full of garbage!" he proclaimed loftily. "The Pope shouldn't write about Jesus, he should leave that to the scholars." And that was the end. Just like that.

Or at least the end for now. Things change, and may change again. His ironic contempt is now armour plated, and there is no way I can think of to break through. How does one argue with a man who believes the Pope has no business speaking about Jesus? The absurdity is palpable, yet he holds it as revealed truth.

I feel in part responsible. Perhaps I shouldn't have sold him the Mass at the Oratory as a free show, but he wouldn't have gone for religious reasons. I thought if he would just go, perhaps something might happen, if only a decision to return again because he liked it there. Perhaps I should have pressed, though at the time I felt pressure would only make him dig in his heels. For the time being I can think of nothing to do but pray and wait. If God stirs his heart again, there is one practicing Catholic he knows and respects.

It makes my current efforts with the other coworker (this one a temp who came in about a year ago) a little more imperative. I know now that time is not infinite for us, and consistent effort is needed. To the first man I gave directions, and left it up to him. To this one I set up a date and gave him a tour. I'll speak a bit more of that tomorrow.

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