A few months ago when I was on a walk with Fr. Beaver, a priest family member of mine and retired army colonel, he told me this story. It is one I think should be shared more often, because there is a fine line to be walked on these issues, and this man walked the line in fashion all of us should more often…
When I was a young priest, right after I came home from my tour in Korea, I met a 19-or-so year old parishioner at the parish I was assigned to right next to Fort Lewis. His father, a two-star general on base, was a very conservative Christian man, who was usually described as being a very hard and rough man, with very strong views about the way the world should be, the role of family, and the whole bit about the traditional outlook. He was well known as abrasive and hard on his soldiers, and you can just imagine how a relationship generally is between a father who is that way and his son. Needless to say, it was not all cuddles.
As the priest of this boy, I knew things that many did not about him. I knew his struggles and I knew how fractured his relationship with his father had become – not only because he thought his dad was such a macho man, but also because as a two-star general, you do plenty of traveling and your job is extremely busy. The young man told me this story many years later, and though I had known his struggles at the time, what he told me about the father’s reaction was one response I will never forget.
You see, the son, after years of personal struggle and reflection had come to terms with the fact that he was gay. Given his father’s outlook on most issues, it was a crushing weight on the boy, and he could not tell his father for a very long time. Can you imagine telling such a father: “Dad, I think I am gay…”?
But one day, about five years after he figured out that he was homosexual, he told his dad “Dad, I have struggled with this for some years now, but I have to tell you – I am gay.” The father’s agonized response, after a long pause, a terrible tearful scowl, and a deep breath was “Son, how have I failed you…? My Lord, I have failed you so completely!” Instantly the boy’s heart sank. This was exactly how he knew it would go, and he knew that he would never be able to fix this relationship that was already one he had trouble with – and that was before such a truth that was so fundamentally opposed to the views his hard father held…
But the father continued “…How have I failed you, my son, in that it took you five years to think that you could tell me this? What this tells me is that I have failed – not because you are gay, but because you felt that it would divide us and could not tell me. You are my son. I love you, and that is what matters…”
Fr. Beaver tells me he doesn’t know the son any more, and that the general died some years ago. Their relationship grew much stronger after that moment, and even where the general held some of his views about the way the world should work, he loved his son more than he ever had before – and it was returned with a new respect and awe for the man whose views seemed strong and shallow for so long.
That story is one that will stick with me too. There is truth to right and wrong – but love for your fellow human being is always moral and always the correct response. We lose perspective so easily when we can see right and wrong. But it is essential to keep it. What is more important – that this boy will be gay his entire life or that his relationship with his own father required him to compartmentalize himself every day? Our job is to avoid sin, of course. But we can only do so while loving each other and acting as positive forces in the lives of the people around us.
I especially want to take note of the way in which the father’s concentration in the situation was so immediately on his own failings – not the struggles he could easily have pointed out in the son. When we are faced with the truth of someone else’s failings, is our concentration ever on how we have wronged those around us, or is our resentment completely focused on the person confessing their mistakes? Any conflict we have with others is almost always the result of both people’s words and actions, not simply the one admitting wrong. It is extremely noble – albeit difficult – when faced with a person pouring out an apology that we notice our own failings before casting stones. In pulling the blame to his own failures as a father, the general acted as Christ would, taking the sin upon Himself for our benefit. Such an automatic response is a zen moment, and one that all of us should strive for.
No matter how opposed to some people’s actions we may be, whether it be the violence they have committed upon themselves or others, their sexual habits, their lies or hate or their mistakes, forgiveness is never below us. It may be above us, though. When we are confronted with the imperfect actions of someone, is our first response to forgive and love – even in the face of the unlovable nature of some human actions that we might not agree with? I know mine isn’t. But I hope it can be someday, because it is definitely one of the things that can be identified as virtue. Living it is different, though – but I will have failed my fellow human being every day when I live without love and forgiveness simply because I can see evil…
Have a good Sunday tomorrow.