In his notes on chapter 4 in The Religious Sense, Father Julian Carrón (left) repeatedly brings us back to our experience. It isn’t a matter of insisting on certain words, he says, but of recognizing them as they are happening. We need to “discover ourselves in action,” we need to be attentive to that which surprises us. As I look back over the week past, what has surprised me most is “George,” and the happiness I have being with him.
I wrote about George on Sunday, referring to him as a lapsed Catholic and infrequent drinking buddy. But his story got lost in a longer post about my Saturday, and I have continued thinking about him since then.
George is, in fact, the partner of one of my wife’s friends, and the four of us had dinner together Saturday evening. In the galaxy of friends surrounding my wife, there are many couples with whom I have a chance to dine or carouse, because my wife is a friendly and popular person, and yet for all the opportunities, I always come back to asking, “What about George and Martha? When are we going to see them?”
I realized on Saturday evening that this is because George, of all the spouses of friends of my wife, is the most open to my Catholic faith experience. Lapsed he may be, but the light of hope burns bright in him, and he never fails to ask about what’s new with me and my Church, which was once and perhaps remains his Church. He wanted to talk about the Way of St. James because I had brought it up, for heaven’s sake, and he brought the conversation back around to it twice.
My affinity for George, if that’s the word for my feeling, may seem like nothing more than like attracting like. You, a baseball fan, hang around with other baseball fans. She, a gardener, befriends flower folk. I, a Catholic, want to be with people who are open to my experiences in the Church of Peter, John Paul, and Benedict. Big deal.
But it is a big deal to me, because I realize how seldom I choose to be with George. There are others like him in my life, and closer and easier to see on a daily or weekly basis. But George brings out something surprising and immediate in me: a deep feeling of all-rightness about my faith, especially because of a certainty I have that there is something in me that he finds surprisingly appealing to something that has gone quiet in him. There is a profound and surprising satisfaction in this.
George also puts me in touch with a real need I have, and a simple one: to be in active companionship with others who share my faith.
A great teacher I once read about said that the turning point in his teaching career came when he realized that he needed to give his attention to the good students, to the ones who were paying attention to him. Whereas, for years, he had worried and tried to win over the students who weren’t paying attention.
The lesson of George for me is to pay ever more attention to that which surprises me with joy and with a gaze that looks back on me in friendship. This is surely where I will find Him, or at the very least, the finest friendship this life can give.