Light of the World

I grew up in a religion with a lot of rules. No coffee, tea, piercings except for one per ear on the lobe for women only, and certainly no tattoos allowed. Strict sexual rules as well: no masturbation, no dating until 16, no short shorts and no shoulders lest we tempt a good, LDS boy, no sex of any variety until marriage -- proper heterosexual marriage, in a Temple, where only "worthy" people could attend and be wed. The whole goal was to be "worthy" and to find a "worthy" mate. It was hard because I couldn't live up to it. Who could? Everyone else, I supposed, for quite a long time.

Worthy. Acceptable.

I was drawn to the Catholic faith because of a message I received clearly and quickly: We are all worthy. We hurt ourselves and others because we don't realize our worth.

I have a tendency to fall back into the way of thinking from my youth. I'm not good enough. I am not acceptable. I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy to enter into the Lord's House -- literally, in LDS terms.

And yesterday, I noticed it. I listen to Catholic Answers occasionally. It helps me stay awake at work and on the road because it raises my blood pressure a good amount and I start arguing in my head with the apologists. Ha. Some of it is useful but some of it is not helpful. I was listening to a week old podcast and a listener had called in saying they are sorta-kinda-agnostic-atheist because they don't understand how being a semi-lapsed Catholic but a good person means that they will go to hell. Why isn't being a good person enough?

The answer? "None of us are worthy to enter heaven." The answer was so pessimistic, negative, and harsh. Thinking that way doesn't do anyone any good. It makes us feel ashamed. And I will argue that it is incorrect. All of us are worthy to enter heaven. As children of God, we are inherently worthy. God accepts us, as we are, because God created us.

I have been reading Father Greg Boyle's book Tattoos on the Heart. I read it for about a half hour each morning and find it so inspiring and heartbreaking. It is about a ministry with gang-related youth and young adults in Los Angeles. I wanted to share an excerpt, which I read yesterday morning before listening to the Catholic Answers podcast, which speaks for itself.
Jason's appearance in my office was a first. Though I had known him most of his life, he was an expert in resisting my offers of help. In this interim, Jason had done his share of dirt for his gang. He would rather be employed selling crack than in anything else. He was cemented in his resistance to me. And yet there he was, that day, in my office.
 "Y ese milagro?"--"I can't believe you're here," I say.
Jason was uncharacteristically quiet, humble in the face of whatever it was that was happening to him. I wish I could flesh out more why and how Jason managed to show up in my office that day. It's all quite mysterious to me. With my ear to the ground, I knew only of his total commitment to his barrio and drug-dealing and general criminality. I couldn't draw a straight line between the fact of his appearance in my office that day and some pivotal, recent moment in the past. I still could only see the goofy kid I had met fifteen years earlier, who had no recourse but to let the streets raise him.
I send him one of our job developers who in turn sends him to a job interview that very day. Not two hours later, he's back, brimming with excitement.
He stands in the doorway of my office, "I GOT THE JOB!"
"That's great," I say.
"Yeah," he says, "The manager said I fit the description."
He's got me here. "Well, I suppose," I say, "if you're America's Most Wanted, he might have said, 'fit the description.' Or did he say, you 'met the qualifications'?"
Jason convulses, giggles, and slaps his forehead. "Yeah, dat one--'met the qualifications'--sheesh--what was I thinkin' 'fit the description'--stooopid."
Jason dropped by often after that. To just get "his fix," I suppose. Hoping to get an even better job, he'd get help on his resume. More often than not, he'd just check in with me. This seemed easy for him, no longer saddled with the shame of his previous "knucklehead" existence, he held his head high and could face me. He could gaze at himself in the mirror and not move. It had been a long time (if ever) since he was able to do that.
"I finally realized why I was out there so long," he tells me in one of his visits, referring to the gangbanging and drug-dealing.
"Yeah, I can see why now. It's just, I was so fuckin' angry all the time."
And of course why wouldn't he be? Both parents were heroin addicts, and he was left to raise himself--which kids are meant not to be good at.
"And now," he says, "I just let it all go--the anger, I mean."
In one of his drop-bys on a Wednesday, I ask him, "So, are we all set for your daughter's baptism on Saturday?"
"Oh yeah," he says, "I bought the dress yesterday. She's gonna look so beautiful."
The next morning, on the way to a job interview for a better position, Jason was gunned down. Someone drove by and saw him and perhaps all his past had become present again. I buried him a week later and baptized his daughter at his funeral Mass. Water, oil, flame.
I landed on the gospel that I wanted to use at his liturgy. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world." I like even more what Jesus doesn't say. He does not say, "One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you'll be light." He doesn't say, "If you play by the rules, cross your T's and dot your I's, then maybe you'll become light." No. He says, straight out, "You are light." It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So, for God's sake, don't move. No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are. Jason was who he was. He made a lot of mistakes, he was not perfect, and his rage called the shots for a goodly chunk of his life. And he was the light of the world. He fit the description.

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