I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session the the Theology of Faith. Tommy was in my class, combing his long, flaxen hair. It was the first time I had seen a boy with such long hair. I immediately filed Tommy under ‘S’ for strange . He turned out to be an atheist in residence in my Theology course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester. At the end of the course when he turned in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone; “Do you think I’ll ever find God?” “No! I said emphatically.” “Why not?” he responded. “I don’t think you will ever find him, but He will find you.” He shrugged and left my class and my life.
Later, I heard that Tommy had graduated, but then a sad report arrived. Tommy was suffering from terminal cancer. Before I could search for him, he came to se me. When he walked into my office, his body was badly wasted and his long hair had fallen out as a result of chemotherapy, but his eyes were bright and his voice firm. “Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often. I hear you are ill,” I blurted out. “Yes, very ill. I have cancer in both lungs. It’s a matter of weeks.” “Can you talk about it?” “Sure, what would you like to know?” “What it’s like to be only twenty-four and dying?” “Well, it could be worse.” “Like what?” “Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals; like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women and making money are the real biggies in life.” But, what I really came to see you about is something you said to me on the last day of class. I asked if you thought I would ever find God and you said, ‘no,’ which surprised me. Then you said, ‘But he will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time. But, when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread to my vital organs, I began banging fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. Nothing happened. Have you ever tried anything for a long time with no success? You get fed up with trying and then you quit. Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals to a God who may or may not be there, I decided that I no longer cared about God and I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. Then I remembered something else that you said; ‘The essential sadness is to go through life without loving’. I realized that it would be equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those I loved that I loved them.”
“So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading his newspaper when I approached him. “Dad.” “Yes, what?” he asked without loweing the paper. “Dad, I would like to talk with you.” “Well, talk.” “I mean, it’s really important.” The newspaper came down three inches. “What is it?” “Dad, I love you. I wanted you to know that.” His newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug to hear him say that he loved me.” It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me too and we hugged and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared stuff we had been keeping secret for many years. I was only sorry about one thing – that I had waited so long. There I was, just bginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to.”
“Then one day, I turned around, and God was there. He does things in His own way and in His own time, but the important thing is that He was there. He found me just like you said. He found me even after I’d stopped searching for him.”
“Tommy,” I gasped. “I think you are saying something so important and more universal than you realize. To me you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather, by opening to love. Could I ask you a favor, Tommy? When you were in class, you were a real pain but, you can make all that up to me now by coming into my present Theology course and telling them what you have told me now? If I repeated it, it would not be the same.”
“I don’t know whether I am ready to talk to your class.” “Well, think about it and if and when you are ready, give me a call.” A few days later he called and said he ws ready for the lass and that he wanted to do it for God and for me. So we scheduled a date. However, he never made it. Before he died, we talked one last time.
“I’m not going to make it to your class,” he asid. “I know.” “But, will you tell them for me? Will you tell the whole world for me?” “I will do that.”
This is a true story by Professor John Powell from the Loyola University of Chicago and he wants to share it with you. While I am not a believer, I found it so touching that I want to share it with you too.