On becoming a healing presence, what a topic, what a theme to explore together. So deep and so wide and so high and so many different aspects to it. Today, I would like to explore with you ways to continue to make ourselves a little more available, a little more open to that possibility, to the possibility that the Lord could use you or me that way.
So I will talk about rigorous honesty. Ooh! It is said of the Desert Fathers, out of the depth of their desert spirituality, they had little to say. But their every action showed a standard of values that turned the world upside-down. And at least one of them said that a lie would never come out of his mouth.
So, too, for you and me, and oh, how hard that is. With the Desert Fathers, it was their humility, their gentleness, their heart-breaking courtesy that was the seal of their sanctity to their contemporaries. Far beyond abstinence or a miracle or sign. Radical honesty.
Once, I heard a Metropolitan say—who had a very prestigious position and quite complicated. And a question was asked of him, “How do you keep it all together? How do you manage to be in so many external affairs and internal affairs and maintain your equanimity and your balance, especially with the number of questions that come to you?”
And he said, just very simply, “I never lie, but I also have no responsibility to answer every question asked of me. I have no problem not saying everything I know about a question asked of me.” That’s what he said.
How hugely important that was for me when I heard it, and how hugely important it is for me to share over the airwaves with you. Anyone can ask me any question, and I teach at a seminary and I’m on the road a lot giving talks. So I get lots and lots of questions. And I am adopting—I never lie. I will just not lie. But also I’m learning how to side-step and obliquely handle a question without answering the question but saying what I want to say, without—continuing the conversation and having things go on. Now granted, there’s a certain art to that, but indeed it is possible. I, too, have no need to answer every question asked of me and to play on someone else’s playing field. Mm-mm.
One time, I was riding in a car with a couple of youth, and I don’t want to—one of the teenagers happened to be in the front seat, got testy, and just said to me, “Dr. Rossi, why are you against homosexuals?”
And I remember being somewhat dumbfounded. I was driving. I said to myself, “I’m not against homosexuals, what would I say?” And I did not handle this conversation particularly well. But what I said was, “Well, I believe in freedom. I can raise the flag on the flagpole higher than most people I know who are advocating one form of sexuality or another. I believe that we are so free that we are free to engage in sexual activity or not as we choose. So it’s not just a matter of who I am going to be sexual with, but if I would choose, I could choose not to.”
And frankly, because it was a teenager, well that person just got quiet and then the teenager in the back—the young person in the back said, “Yay! Dr. Rossi won again!”
Well frankly, it’s a poor example of how to handle the situation, because I wasn’t interested in winning or losing, and I could have handled it differently. I could have explored it with the person and asked what’s behind the question.
My point is, questions come to us when we least expect it. We don’t have to answer the question on the questioner’s terms. I have no trouble side-stepping but also continually speaking the truth. That’s where that goes.
One time, when my wife died—and her mother was a widow, and my wife was an only child. So after my wife’s death, I routinely took my two children to Bubba’s for a week to have a little vacation and be with Bubba and just spend some family time. And we all enjoyed it. So there were four of us who spent the week together.
Bubba loved to cook. Ooh, she was a gourmet cook. And the other thing Bubba loved to do was play cards. 500. 500 rummy. And truth be told, I’m not particularly fond of cards or 500 rummy. But it was a family game, and we’d start at seven o’clock. Of course it was not for money, it was just play, and whoever wins, shuffle the cards and play again. So we did that every evening. And Bubba would have really fine food for us. Doritos and fruit and diet soda and whatever. So this happened every night we were there.
About the third night, late, had to be almost midnight, I was dealt a hand that was out of a picture book. It was like the perfect hand. Just picture-perfect hand. So I looked at it, and no emotion, didn’t matter to me, but I said very quietly, “If I were the three of you, I would lay down my cards, because I’m going to go out when my turn comes.”
And Bubba very gently said, “Al, you’re lying.”
Timothy, my eleven-year-old, said, “Bubba, my dad never lies.”
And the conversation went on, and of course I went out. And in a sense, who cares? But that sentence, which came and went, has stayed with me all these many years. He didn’t have to say that. But he did say it because he believed it, and the reason he could say it was that I had included him in the process of my trying to not lie.
I do have a tendency to exaggerate. I do put a spin on things larger than life. But long ago, I had said to my children and to my wife, “Please help me with that, and when I do it, then gently correct me. To say ‘That’s not the way it was.’” So many’s the time one of my two children or my wife would say, “Al,” or “Dad,” and then we would talk. So having been part of the process, he knew at least my efforts and my attempts.
And what’s really interesting about that, my Timothy is now a young adult, and he’s engaged to a twin. And his fiancée and I and Tim were talking one day, just talking. And his fiancée said that her twin was asking about Tim, and Tim’s fiancée simply said, “Tim never lies.”
Kind of we’re like—things continue, legacy. And the reason she can say that is Tim has included her in the process of his efforts to not lie. And I can say out of my own ways, that radical honesty comes at a high price, because one has to really struggle and want and kill one’s ego to do it.
That being said, I’m going to play a little song for us with a little Lenten melody. Lord I call to thee, and I call to thee, you who are the truth—the way the truth and the life. I who am trying to be truthful call out to you. Let’s listen to the music.
Lord, I call upon thee, hear me!
Hear me, O Lord!
Lord, I call upon thee, hear me!
Receive the voice of my prayer, when I call upon thee!
Hear me, O Lord!
Let my prayer arise in thy sight as incense,
And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice!
Hear me, O Lord!
Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name!
Come, let us worship the Word of God
Begotten of the Father before all ages,
And incarnate of the Virgin Mary!
Having endured the cross, he was buried as he himself desired.
And having risen from the dead, he saved me, the erring one.
Music has a way of getting a point across differently than words spoken. Lord, I call, and when I call, either in song or in voice or in my heart, I try to do it with as honest, rigorous honest heart as I can.
In our culture, in America, we have many stereotypes, and about the American Indians we have many different stereotypes, but one phrase often crops up when talking about honesty. And that’s the phrase “honest Indian.” “Honest Indian.” There’s a certain, how do you say, idea, truth that we hold about many of the Indians and Indian tribes, that one of the things they didn’t do was lie. They just wouldn’t lie. They didn’t lie. It wasn’t their way.
We who are trying to be open to God’s fire and become his healing presence, like the Desert Fathers, one of whom said clearly that a lie would never come out of his mouth, that’s our effort, that’s where we—we’re trying to go to continue to clean the conduit and let the fire through.