By Father Joe Herzing, Pastor
Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Family Church
James Martin was studying to be a priest for a group of priests called the Jesuits. As part of their schooling in Chicago, each had to choose an assignment to do some work with real people not just study books. His friends were choosing assignments in hospitals and nursing homes.
James became interested in working with the gangs on the streets of Chicago with a guy named Brother Bill. Bill was a large man who wore a simple denim patchwork cloak.
As James began his work with Bill among the gangs he began to hear the story of how Bill had ended up here. It wasn’t that many years earlier Brother Bill had two great job offers, one as hospital therapist and one as an executive trainer for an airline. With this difficult decision, he thought he would stop in a church to pray.
As he kneeled down, everything went a little fuzzy and all he could remember was seeing the face of Christ on a painting. He heard a voice say “love” and “never be afraid, all your trust.” This didn’t help him make his decision but he began to search the Bible and seemingly every time he opened it, the passage that reads, “Take nothing with you for the journey.”
After seven times of getting this message, he went to talk to a priest about what it means. Well, it meant you should sell what you have and follow Christ, the priest said.
This is what Brother Bill ultimately did and he ended working as a youth minister at a church in the projects in Chicago.
There were two main gangs in the area that Brother Bill would work in. They had a vote as to whether or not to kill this new strange man. The vote was decided that he would live and not only that, but that they would protect him. They told him this and he said to them, “even if I should be killed by someone that one would still be my brother.”
That is what Brother Bill was. He was a brother. James would go to the streets with him and they would hear the conversations about who was in jail, who was in the hospital, who was in need and who had died.
James continued to work with Brother Bill and got to know a number of the people. He invited three of the gang members out to the place where he lived with the others who were studying. It seemed like he was learning to “love” and to “never be afraid and all your trust.”
One day, as Brother Bill and he were talking to a group of gang members, they got word that a fight was about to break out. Bill drove quickly to the spot and one could see a group of young men with chains and lumber. Bill spoke with them quickly and told them that they were going to stand between them.
Then James saw across the street a group of Asian men similarly armed, perhaps with guns. James wondered, “What are we are doing here?” — but there was also a sense of this the right thing “never be afraid, all your trust.”
Bill said to him, “Now we pray.”
A few uncomfortable minutes passed, as shouting and a thrown bottle came over, but then slowly the groups went away. Bill said we gave them a chance to save face, to go home without being a coward. “It was good that we were here,” he said.
As we travel our life with Christ, may we make it easier for others to be people of peace, to allow people to walk away before great damage is done.
(Story from “My Life With the Saints” by James Martin SJ).