Walking the Parish | Tales from the Street | Part I

Although Bob’s not religious, he did have a religious hang-up: forgiveness. He wonders how God can forgive people who have done horrible things…

By Fr. Justin Clemente. August 23, 2022.

Many of you know that over the past six months or so, I’ve been walking the parish, farming the neighborhood, and cultivating friendships in the wider Hagerstown community. Sometimes, it feels like the doors are shut and windows bolted, with no room for conversation or prayers.

Other times, however, it seems like the gate is wide open! This past Friday, I had several people talk with me at length on their porch, or inviting me to sit down, hear a bit of their story, and share what New Creation’s all about. The hospitality was wonderful! There are multiple stories I could share here, but today I’d like to share Bob’s story (not his real name).

Bob and I talked on his front porch for probably a good 20 minutes or so. It was an interesting conversation, to say the least. His first comment was to tell me that I just missed his live-in girlfriend, who is a trained evangelist (!). Bob shared with me that he thinks of himself as “not a religious type.” In his own words, he shared how he’s tried to live a “good life.” When I asked him how things are going in his neighborhood, he expressed his concern about about how drugs are tearing apart our community, and a lack of respect for neighbors. “If it’s not bolted down,” he said, “It’s stolen.”

Although Bob’s not religious, he did have a religious hang-up: forgiveness. He wonders how God can forgive people who have done horrible things – even if they simply ask on their death bed! He invited my response, and I encouraged him to point the finger, not at others, but back at himself. The Gospel tells us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The Gospel levels our sense of pride before God. With folks like Bob, what I usually find at work is minimization of one’s own sin and a maximization of the sin of others (e.g. I might not be perfect, but at least I’m not like THEM!).

Going back to his claim to “not be a religious type,” I encouraged Bob that Christianity is not just for religious people: it’s for everyone. It’s all about Christ Jesus. Either he is who he says he is or not. If he is, then Christianity can never be moderately important or just for those who happen to find it helpful or attractive. The Gospel of Jesus is either of ultimate importance or none at all. I pointed Bob back to the Scriptures, and suggested he start with the Gospel of John, asking himself what of kind of portrait John gives us of Jesus. No journey could be more important, no book more applicable and relevant to Bob’s life.

I ask your prayers for Bob. Pray that he would take up and read. Pray that the Lord would do his glorious work of bringing him to see his own great need, and the Lord’s great work on the Cross.