Those Who Go Before Us…
I am currently reading an amazing book by James Martin named “My Life with The Saints.” He is a Jesuit priest who has a very interesting story as he shares about encountering the powerful lives of Jesus followers who had gone before.
While I am not a Roman Catholic, I have found myself on a journey over the past 10 years of learning from many of the “saints” of the church. The richness that I have discovered in Assisi and Ignatius and Therese of Liseaux and Maria De Matthias and Merton (and the list goes on and on) have deeply shaped me especially in the areas of spiritual growth, spiritual direction and the theology of suffering.
However, this book also caused me to start thinking about some of those who have had the most profound effect on my life personally. There are literally dozens of people I could list whose lives have had a profound impact on my life from all different spectrums of faith and denominations. It is proof that I owe a lot to those who went before me and left a legacy of how to live a full life in relationship with Jesus.
However, as I write today there are 3 that stand out to me. One of them I have met, the other 2 I have not. Out of the 3, there is only one whom you have probably ever heard of. However, they all have had a profound impact on me and the journey God has had me on, and I am grateful to God for their examples within my lifetime.
- Archbishop Oscar Romero.
What happens when you take a conservative, book worm kind of guy who never makes waves and you put him in a position where God gets ahold of His heart and gives him His heart for the poor? You end up with a shining light in a very dark world. Archbishop Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic priest who eventually became Archbishop of El Salvador during the late 1970s during a very dark time in that country as revolution was occurring and the poor were facing major injustices at every corner. Romero stands out to me as I consider the ways he stood up for injustice, cared for the poor, walked out peace, used his voice to call for change (rather than weapons) and eventually died a martyrs death. He is an example to me of how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for HIs Kingdom.
I first heard about Archbishop Romero when one of my college professors (who formerly was a machine gun toting / liberation theologian / priest in South America) announced a movie night where we would watch a totally unknown movie named Romero. I think I originally went because there was extra credit involved, not because of any real desire to be stretched. I was riveted as I saw all that Romero had put on the line over and over again in order to chase after God’s call on His life to see justice come among the poor of San Salvador who had been beat down and oppressed in unthinkable ways.
As I viewed his life, I was struck by a modern day example of what it means to bring justice through peace and to turn the other cheek. Of course there are critics of him and the way the political roots he aligned himself with, however if we set politics aside we see a man willing to count the cost – and in the end pay with his life.
Somewhere inside of me God was planting a seed that longed to see His justice made known in this world, whatever the cost.
2. Mother Stephanie Murray.
Almost 5 years ago while I was in Cochoabamba Bolivia I had the opportunity to tour an orphanage. It was very touching to see the work that a group of sisters were doing among children, many of whom were living on the street before coming to this huge orphanage that also had an amazing outreach into the community. It was one of those times where I sensed that God was reinforcing a call to the poor, but then He snuck up on me.
While there I had an encounter with a nun whom I will never forget. Here name is Mother Murray. She moved from Philadelphia to Cochabamba 42 years prior to work among the impoverished forgotten children of the city. She is certainly not famous, but the thousands of children whom she has helped in Jesus‘ name have been changed forever. And, I believe that somehow makes her famous in God’s eyes.
While talking with her, she said to me – “There are only 3 things which you must focus on – “Compassion, Pardon (forgiveness) and Love. Be about and speak on those 3 things.” She then proceeded to extend her hand to my forehead and proclaim a blessing over me – “Make Jerry an instrument of your peace, your joy, your justice, your compassion, your love…” I was blown away and felt “commissioned” to be about the poor to a great extent. I had just been given a prophetic word by a nun originally from Philadelphia working in Bolivia. It made my head spin a bit…and somehow it made sense in the way God does the unexpected.
But, as I look back on her, I realize that she truly is a living saint. Now, I don’t know if she would make the cut for canonization, however she is a living example of what it means to lay it all down and take up the cause of Jesus among the broken and forgotten, and to call others into the same. She had a profound impact on me as God touched my life through her on that day…and she continues to.
3. Henri Nouwen
Many people have been touched by the books that Henri Nouwen wrote as he has helped thousands and thousands of Jesus followers to find intimacy with God. He had a way of writing that drew me in to a desire to know God much more deeply.
However, it was not through his writing that Nouwen had the most profound impact on my life. It was through his living. For one, his life does not make him the poster child for the victorious Christian life as defined by many. He had his faults and his struggles and his bouts with depression and his doubts, yet God used him (and continues to use him) in very profound ways to draw other broken, wounded people to know God and then make Him known in a broken world.
The second profound impact on me is what Nouwen did with his career. Having taught at Notre Dame and Yale and Harvard he spent the last decade of his life as pastor of a community of mentally challenged people in Toronto named L’Arche Community. When given a choice of teaching in ivy league schools or serving among those who are often forgotten, he chose the latter. He chose the path of great humility- choosing to work among the last in the eyes of the world when he could have been working among the greatest and smartest. His life is a reminder to me of just how upside down God’s Kingdom is. And, I want to be able to exhibit that kind of indifference to the powers of this world and practice a humble hiddenness, like he.
Three Jesus followers – saints in the Biblical sense of the term – who had a profound impact on me. They were simply following The Master into what He had set before them. And now, through a legacy they left in their wake, they help to make that way a little bit clearer to me. They help me to see surrender and humility and hiddenness through the fog of control and pride and need for recognition that so easily grabs ahold of me.
Who has had a profound impact on how you follow Jesus?