The Summer 2007 issue of the "Grayfriar News," a publication sent to contributors and other members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, in an article "The Lord of the Smile," by Fr. Bernard Murphy, CFR., tells of a poor man in the mountains of Kentucky who knew Jesus. I've met people like that also, when I made a memorable visit to Kentucky in December 1996. A group of us, postulants with the Order of Friars Minor, visited Our Lady of Good Counsel at Hazard, KY - where we met with priests and brothers, and some of the parishioners as well as a certain chair maker, whose name I no longer recall.
You've got to understand something about the general layout of the area, to fully appreciate this story. This is a generally mountainous region, with "hollows" (spaces between hills) where people have settled. I visited a man who lived at the side of a mountain. He did not have a house, but a shack which contained some rocking chairs his son had made, some crates to sit on and one "easy chair" (an old second or third hand, somewhat upholstered, chair) and a pot-bellied stove. That was all they had, but there were many others, as was explained to us, who didn't even have a stove. Can anyone imagine how awfully cold these poor people were in mid-winter when temperatures in that area plummeted to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit? Some of these folks who had transportation went to church, and those without a car or small truck couldn't. Some rode bicycles but I cannot imagine for one minute that it is safe riding a light bike over snow on these mountain trails. That's an awful challenge and a dangerous one at that. Most people I met didn't have electricity - they had oil lamps. But these simple folks, or better said, people who lived simply, they were rich... because they knew Jesus!
When I visited this Appalachian area, there was great poverty and it would surprise me if anything had changed in ten years. This is an area the world forgot, after the coal mining companies moved out. Many of the old timers had black-lung disease and other respiratory conditions as a result of working in the mines many years ago and even today. The fact is that the mining companies owned everything, and when they moved out there was nothing left. But as poor as they were, these good people had their dignity, their integrity, and, they knew Jesus!
A person like that, that is, someone with a basic self-worth, and work ethic, is not likely to fall for the allurements of the world should these suddenly become available for him. Nowadays, there are many people who grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths, who go to college because their parents can afford it, find employment (if possible), work hard, but also play hard. They get married without all too much planning, they barely know what true grit is all about, what hardship is, because they have never been cold a day in their lives. They go to their country clubs, the liquor flows freely and morals go out of the window. God is forgotten, because they have found a new God: the race car, the 26-foot pleasure boat, the house with 3500 square feet of floor space. They live fast and hard but they are not happy, because they do not know Jesus.
Ultimately, the marriage falls apart, and you know, the children always suffer. One of the major reasons, I believe, why we have so many unhappy children in this world is because there is no family unity... kids were borne and raised in a dysfunctional family. They do not know Jesus, either. There are a number of other problems that can upset the applecart in a family of young people who have found other Gods, but we won't get into this here. There is only one way to Heaven - through Jesus Christ, and, by accepting the cross patiently and carrying it without dragging it on the floor!
Jesus wants us to be his brother or sister. He loves all of us equally but individually. Like St. Francis of Assisi and a couple of other saints, they love us individually out of a huge amount of people. One could liken this to a gigantic swarm of migrating swallows. God loves them all. They are His creatures, creatures of the Father. The Father loves each of these flying jewels as individuals as He knows their name (same way he knows us) - and He has promised us his help. He has sent his only Son, Jesus, to redeem us from our sins, because He wants us to be with Him for all time. So why are we saying no? Are we so ungrateful that we have the chutzpah to say no to a kind gesture of one who created us and wants us to be happy. Make sure you know Him - He knows all of us. Peace.
God bless you, and keep you well!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
2007 rev. 2012