By Derick Cranston
So often we fail to see the light of another’s goodness. Our vision is muddied by preconceived notions and prejudices, and we refuse to look beyond them.
It is only by looking through the light of Christ, that we can see the light of another’s soul. As Psalm 36 reminds us, “It is only in your light, that we see light itself.”
In 1924 my grandmother was a 9-year-old girl living in northwest Iowa. She lived with her parents, sisters, brothers and grandparents. They lived in a big house on the outskirts of town, and in order to help pay the mortgage they rented rooms out to travelers and workmen from the railroad. One day a man from Mexico knocked on the door. He said he would be in town for several weeks working on the railroad line, and needed a place to stay. They were unsure at first, but the man was polite and they needed the money.
As the days went on, my grandmother came to find out that the man was from a small village in northern Mexico. My grandmother was intrigued by the visitor. She would often run out to greet him at sunset when she saw him walking back to the house after work. He would tell her stories of his travels, the Mexican village he grew up in, and of the wife and children back in Mexico he missed dearly. She was coming to see this stranger in a new light.
One Saturday afternoon in late August, my grandmother’s new friend gave her some money and asked her to buy some whisky for him at a nearby store. She brought some back for him, and then went about helping her mother and sisters prepare for the evening meal. A little bit later she checked in on him, and he gave her some more money to buy some more whisky. When she came back, he was cleaning his guns.
Being all of 9 years old, she forgot to mention this to her mother until just before nightfall.
She was startled when her mother suddenly stopped what she was doing and gazed at her with a look of grave concern. Her husband and sons were away fishing at a far-off lake, and would not be home until late evening. She was alone in a house with three young girls and a man she did not know; a man who had been drinking all afternoon and cleaning his guns. They were all in the kitchen when they heard him come out of his room and lumber down the stairway.
Is it possible to overcome fear with love? To still love when we are in danger of suffering from brutal violence? To not return evil for evil? The man staggered into the kitchen, reached into his pocket, and handed my grandmother a rolled-up wad of cash. He told her he was drunk and did not want to lose his money. He went outside into the yard and shot his guns into the air several times, and whooped and hollered. My grandmother’s mother cautiously went outside and talked to the man. She found out that it was his youngest daughter’s birthday and it was a custom in their village to celebrate a birthday by lighting firecrackers and shooting off guns into the air. He began to weep, and she gently led him back upstairs to his room so he could sleep.
In the Gospels the phrase that Jesus repeats more than any other phrase is “be not afraid.” Fear clouds our judgment and we overreact. In times of doubt, the only thing we can do is pray for God’s grace to light the path ahead. It is only through the light of God’s grace that we can disperse the shadow of darkness and fear.
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)