Many years ago, there was a young man who started attending daily Mass while I was on summer break and able to go to Mass every day. Because he was a stranger, I started to watch him during the liturgy. It was clear that he was a new convert—very devout, reverent, and he often sat in the chapel afterwards to pray.
I introduced myself in the parking lot and asked if he was a new convert. Yes, he was, and very happy to be welcomed to the flock. Afterwards, we chatted a minute or two after Mass every day. He was euphoric, and I so enjoyed the way his experience was reminding me of my own long ago. I wasn’t surprised one day when his demeanor became troubled, almost fearful.
“You think it’s going, don’t you?” I asked him.
“He’s leaving me,” he answered, looking on the verge of tears.
“No, he’s not,” I said. “He’ll never do that.”
“Does that mean I’m leaving him?” He seemed almost terrified.
“Not unless you choose to do that,” I said. “The question is, do you love him, or do you just love the way he loved you? He’s always loved you that way. It’s just that you only recently discovered it. And now he’s giving you the chance to love him back.”
Tears came, very much against his will. “I didn’t know….”
“Now you know.”
I didn’t see him for a day or two afterward. Then he returned to Mass and spoke to me afterward. He thanked me for my comments. “You were inspired,” he said.
Well, maybe. If that’s audacious, I ask forgiveness; if it’s not, I give thanks.
Classes started again and I had to go back to work. I asked someone if he’d continued going to daily Mass, but they didn’t know him. I fretted about him for a long time, and I still haven’t forgotten him and our brief conversations. I still wonder what decision he made. If he only loved the euphoria that the Holy Spirit showered on him during that summer, then he would have dismissed his experience, deciding that it was simply some kind of intense emotional catharsis. But if he didn’t, if he decided that it was real, if he decided that God did indeed love him, then he would have learned what he should do next: love him back.
Love is dynamic. It’s not some kind of static thing that just sits there. It’s back-and-forth; it’s like a dance. And in fact, it’s in that very movement we learn that it’s permanent, it’s forever, it’s not a temporary “condition” we sometimes find ourselves in, something that’s transitory. Periods of seeming dormancy can go on for years, then a shower of gold suddenly bursts forth when we least expect it (and most need it). And sometimes we’re just incapable, helpless. We’re empty, desolate. We can do nothing—then suddenly we find ourselves inspiring someone in a parking lot, saying things we didn’t know we knew.
I want to think the young man is still dancing. I may be wrong, but I kind of think he might be.