. . . Back in the late ‘70s, I was living in a monastery in Philadelphia. Some millionaire friends from New York City called and asked if I’d like to come up to the city for the week, go to a play on Broadway, eat at Sardi’s. This, dear reader, was not a hard decision to make.
One evening we went to a play and, after the first act, we went out in the street for intermission. The tuxedoed husbands got into a dense discussion with their bejeweled, evening-gowned wives on the influence of the German philosopher Schopenhauer on Samuel Beckett’s “Theatre of the Absurd.” Obviously they asked me what I thought.
I was about to deliver an observation so profound that it would render the discussion moot for eternity, when she walked by. She was not one of the beautiful people. She wore a cab driver’s cap, double-breasted man’s suit with the pockets ripped out, holes in her nylons, and tennis shoes.
As she approached, I noticed she was peddling “Variety” newspapers, the show biz paper. In those days it cost 75 cents. So, in a gesture of great generosity, I reached in my pocket, handed her a dollar, and waved her away, then returned to my wealthy friends awaiting my next astute observation on the absurd.
And then she said, “Father?” In those days, I knew I couldn’t distinguish myself by my virtues, so I distinguished myself by my clothing; I always wore the collar. “Father, could I talk to you a minute?”
I snapped, “What? Can’t you see I’m busy? Do you make a habit of interrupting people in the middle of a conversation? Wait over there and I’ll speak to you when I’m done.” She whispered, “Jesus wouldn’t talk to Mary Magdalene like that.” And then she was gone.
I’d treated the woman as though she were a thing, like a vending machine you put your money into, and out comes your choice. I’d shown no appreciation at all for the little service that she was performing. No interest whatsoever in the little drama of her daily things. Not one ounce of cordial love impregnated with respect for the sacred dimension of her personality.
Frankly, I was so caught up in trying to impress my millionaire friends with how aesthetically brilliant I was that I missed her. If she had even a sliver of a negative self-image when she approached me, I had made a mountain out of a molehill.
Now let’s suppose, just suppose, that this woman came to church on Sunday and there was Brennan Manning, in the pulpit, exhorting her to believe that God loves her unconditionally as she is and not as she should be. My hypocrisy outside the Shepherd Theatre that night made the theatre of the absurd look inviting.
How could she believe in the love of a God she can’t see, when she couldn’t find even a trace of love in the eyes of a brother wearing a clerical collar whom she could see? A shriveled humanity has a shrunken capacity for receiving the rays of God’s love.
And they’ll know we are Christian by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Or not. "