I’d like to tell you a story, a true story. It is a story of despair and hope; of blindness and vision; of death and re-birth. It is a story of Easter. But it doesn’t take place in a strange and distant land. It doesn’t take place a millennium ago. My story begins in a quiet church on the West Side of Youngstown, on a cold and snowy weekend in March. There, 63 men gathered to participate in the Men’s Renewal Program of St. Christine Catholic Parish.
These men came from diverse age groups and from different walks of life. They were drawn together by a force that they could neither see, nor scarcely understand. These men were bankers, firemen, police officers, teachers, lawyers, laborers, doctors, and businessmen.
These men arrived at the parish on an early Saturday morning with an uncertainty in their eyes; with a hunger in their souls. They had left their families and daily routines behind on the chance that perhaps somewhere in that weekend, that persistent call within would lead them to a peace and truth for which they had long yearned. Arriving with only a small travel bag, they carried with them all the frailties and complexities that compose the human spirit.
Over the course of that weekend, the bravest of these men stood and spoke of their struggles and defeats; of failures and mistakes; of vanquished dreams and hopes. One spoke of the loss of his unborn children; another of the loss of his father as a young man; yet another spoke of the many wrong turns his life had taken. They spoke of dark days, and of helplessness. And, they spoke of redemption and hope. They spoke not for their own gain, but for the endeavor that their words would awaken others to the presence of God’s love in their lives. And, their words sounded in the hearts of these 63 men. I know; I was one of those men.
Working from a list
There was one man in particular that I remember from that weekend. He was a member of the parish team that had helped sponsor the event. He had worked with other team members throughout the year to invite and recruit participants. He had a list of names that he had written down and kept on a tablet in his desk drawer, names of men that surely needed to be touched by God’s grace. This man had a brother, a brother whose life had been quite different from his own. And, the brother’s name was on that list.
There came a time during that cloistered weekend when this man’s brother stood and spoke of the difficulties in his life. He spoke with simple words, words born in truth, humility and suffering. And as that man listened to his brother’s words, a veil of arrogance that had blinded him for so long began to lift. And that man thought of the many times at which, perhaps, he had turned away when his brother needed his help more than anything else. That very day, that man asked his brother for forgiveness.
As unlikely as it may seem, miracles do happen. If we have the courage to open our eyes and follow our hearts we will see them. For on a cold and snowy weekend, in a quiet and desolate church on the West Side of Youngstown, 63 men discovered that they are not alone in this world, that a loving God walks with them. And each found something that had been missing in their lives for so long — peace, understanding, and forgiveness. And I, I found a brother who had been lost to me for years.
Easter is the season for miracles. Ask any of the 63 men who participated in the renewal program, for the lives of those men will never quite be the same again.
X David Bobovnyik is an attorney living in Youngstown who writes occasional columns, especially in holiday season.