For the better part of this week, our parish here in Fargo, ND, has been blessed by the presence of Fr. Larry Richards to lead our fall parish mission. I had the additional honor of chatting with Fr. Larry on Catholic radio during my Real Presence Live show on Tuesday. I loved every minute of the 30 we had together. I saw a deep passion to share God’s love with others. This time, I wasn’t listening to him from my minivan radio. He was just a few feet away. I can vouch for his sincerity.
If you haven’t heard him yet, Fr. Larry is a “tell it like it is” sort of guy. He has a special flair for speaking to men in their language, and has been a presenter throughout the nation and in many different countries as well, including Promise Keepers events. He gives it straight, sometimes with more bluntness than we’re used to. But I have to be honest. I find the bluntness refreshing, because I also see the love behind his words.
Last week, I talked on Faith Fridays about the perception of some non-believers that the Christian life is a life that is unencumbered. Fr. Larry was yet another reminder to me that this is simply not the case. He grew up the son of two cops in Pittsburgh, and his father left the family early on in his childhood and set out to have a new life with a new family in a new place. He also was a raging alcoholic who died in his early 40s. During the week of his death, his son Larry, by this time a seminarian, was at his side, and the last words he said to the father who had abandoned him all those years before were: “I love you, too, Dad.”
That’s why, when Fr. Larry talks about love, I know that he knows the real meaning of the word. His father didn’t necessarily deserve those words, but he got them anyway. As Fr. Larry reminded us, forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s an act of the will. I can imagine that as he was telling his decaying father who had left his life years earlier, there may have been a lack of feeling — at least the warm fuzzy kind. But he knew that in declaring his love anyway, he was offering his father the gift of forgiveness and peace. Can there be any better way to die than to be looking into the eyes of those we have hurt and to hear the words, “I love you?”
During one of his talks, Fr. Larry gave us an acronym for family:
F – Faith & Forgiveness: Remember, forgiveness is an act of the will, not a feeling. As for faith, Fr. Larry said, as parents we need to remember our primary goal is to get our children to heaven.
A – Affirmation: We need to build up one another, not tear each other apart, Fr. Richards said. Ever heard of the Nurtured Heart approach? It’s worth a shot.
M – Make Memories: Don’t underestimate the power of family meals. Find ways to be together as a family, even if it’s just once a day, or a couple times a week. There’s great power in this ritual.
I – Intimacy: …or, “Into Me See.” We need to truly listen to one another, to see into each others’ hearts. Anger, Fr. Richards reminded us, is often a symptom for pain and hurt.
L – Love: It’s all about love. Only love. That is why we’re here. To learn how to love. It starts with loving our family.
Y – You: Forget about “me,” I love YOU. As we disappear, Christ becomes more prominent. The more we give away, the more we’re bound to receive.
He sent us away with the following homework: write a love letter to each member of your immediate family. And not just any love letter. Write it as if they might be dead by midnight.
“We’re all messed up. Every family is messed up,” Fr. Larry said in response to the naysayers who might proclaim they cannot write such a letter. “Look, we can be dysfunctional and loving. There’s no reason we can’t.”
I hope that Fr. Larry’s words will reach into your heart as they did mine. Like most families on the planet, mine is not without its share of dysfunction. We are all broken. We are all in need of healing. We all need forgiveness. And we all need love.
Q4U: When was the last time you wrote a love letter to each person in your immediate family? Maybe the time is now. I know I have some work to do with at least six letters to write. Better get crackin’!
Copyright 2011 Roxane Salonen