*Note: a hardcopy of this letter has been mailed to Pope Francis
Letter to a Friend
To: Pope Francis the First
From: Christopher Sly
Re: The Peace Story – Ending War and Poverty
When my mother was a little girl her favorite uncle was a Catholic priest named Father John that she believed could heal the sick with his hands. Her given name was Clara, but she chose to go by her middle name, Frances, in honor of her favorite saint. At the age of 18, as she stood in that threshold separating her childhood past from her adult future, she had narrowed down the course she would take with her life to one of two choices: Catholic nun, or Catholic nurse.
Her mother said – “You are going to be a secretary.” So my mother borrowed a $100 from her uncle the farmer, and a $100 from her aunt the family witch, and entered nurses training at Sacred Heart Hospital in Johnstown Pennsylvania. On that night when my parent’s stories first touch she was a 24 year old Registered Nurse who had won a scholarship to a degree program at Duquesne University. She wanted to go rollerskating. Her friends said no, so she went alone.
When my father was a little boy he would spin back and forth for hours upon a twisting rope. He said he thought that if he could figure out the laws of physics that controlled what appeared to be perpetual motion that he could design an engine that would change the world. At the age of 18 he became a mechanical engineering major at Pennsylvania State University, and he told me that when he graduated he took the lowest paying job of anyone in his graduating class, because they gave him exactly what he asked for.
It was the Westinghouse Research Laboratories, and they were going to allow him to rotate through their various laboratories and work with some of the worlds great scientists until he chose his field of research. It was the beginning of a “cold war era” defense industry career during which he would pile up more college credits than if he had received three doctoral degrees, and that would end at Hughes Aircraft, where he became Head of the Missile Propulsion Section, Head of the Secret Analysis Section, and Senior Staff for the Top Secret Analysis of Russian Missile Systems.
But on THAT night, he was a twenty-something, 6 foot tall, blonde haired blue eyed lean roller skater who had a thing for nurses. He said – “I knew that first night.” She said – “I wasn’t so sure.”
“You will convert to Catholicism, be baptized, and attend mass with me.”, she said. He said – “OK.”
“Our 8 children will be baptized and raised Catholic”, she said. He said – “OK.”
“They will attend Catholic schools”, she said. He said – “OK.”
During my mother’s sixth pregnancy she had a miscarriage, a boy child she was going to name John after her favorite uncle, the priest. There were complications, and the doctor warned her it would be dangerous to have any more. Then she bore my sister, and at the age of 43, she bore me. And her heart pumped 30 pints of blood out on to my delivery room floor, as fast as they could pour it into her. And then it stopped, and with it, stopped this story.
Four minutes later God sent her back. She named me John, and she prayed that she had bore the church a priest. I did not become a priest, but when I was a little boy, God was not the only one listening when my mother prayed for peace.
In my version of the Peoples’ Story we are all born into God’s Guessing Game, and every moment of our lives we must answer God’s Question -
What should you do?
When I was six years old my brother told me that there is no Santa Claus. I ran to my mother, who would never lie to me, and she admitted that yes, she had lied to me. In one moment I moved from inside of a story where Santa Clause was absolutely true, out into a story where it was all a vast conspiracy of lies designed to control how I answered God’s Question.
In the flash of epiphany I caught the pattern -
Where I was standing was controlling what I was seeing.
What I was seeing was controlling how I was answering.
How I was answering was controlling my consequences.
In the same flash of epiphany I caught the geometry of motion, from inside of mis-perception, out into a larger reality.
I was baptized. I attended Catholic schools. I was an alter boy. When I was 14, the age of confirmation, a good friend of mine announced that he would be going to seminary school in preparation for entering the priesthood. One day my mother came to me and asked me how old I was when I decided not to believe in God, because she wondered at the wisdom of such a young child. I did not have the words then to tell her that it was not God that I did not believe in.
My God is my Creator, that gifted me this turn upon the field of play, for which I am grateful. My religion is the Grateful Heart and the Seeking Mind of my hero character. I try to remember and give thanks for my great fortune, particularly at those times when I feel least fortunate. I try to remember the wisdom of humility, that I am human, that I am guessing, particularly at those times when I am most certain I am right. How old were YOU, mother, I might ask, when you decided to refuse to play God’s Guessing Game, when you chose to become a “Knower of the Truth”? Is this not the sin of arrogance that separates us from God? Which of us is the Prodigal?
In my version of the Peoples’ Story, God does not speak from man’s mouth or write books with man’s hand. God did not promise me ANYTHING, and I will not kneel in obedience before some false God crafted from some gilded words out of a selfish hunger for heaven, or a selfish fear of burning hell.
All those years ago, when I confirmed myself in the role of secret hero, and set out on my secret hero mission to answer my mother’s prayers for peace, I did not know how much the answer would hurt her. There can be no world peace, or end to poverty, as long as we allow the pretense that God speaks from man’s mouth, or writes words with man’s hand, in order to command obedience by cultivating selfish hungers with promises of heaven, and selfish fears of burning hell.
Mother, I am am not the Antichrist. I am John, your grateful son. Puke up the fruit from the Tree of Arrogance. Submerge yourself in the waters of humility. And return to God’s Guessing Game. Return to God’s Garden where we can join together to help feed the hungry, heal the sick, and shelter the homeless,
My question, Pope Francis – Is it possible for a Grateful Seeker to be a Catholic? Must I believe that God sent his only son to be tortured to death so I can go to heaven? Is it not enough that I choose to be grateful for what I have been given rather than resentful of my limitations; to remember that I am not God, that I am guessing; to try to live a life of courage and compassion in the footsteps of Jesus, and to die without expectations or regrets?
There can never be world peace or an end to poverty as long as our educational systems trap children in their selfish heart and their knowing mind to command their obedience with the words of God promising heaven and threatening hell. If they stand in the grateful seeker they will see nothing worth fighting about, and they will be able to play together solving the problems that are creating poverty.
Pope Francis, I watched my saintly mother dance across death’s threshold, and would not be surprised if it were her that whispered Francis in your ear. I watched my hero father purge his body, clear his mind and charge across death’s threshold into his next adventure. I cannot bring to them the solution I set out so long ago to find. Therefore, I bring it to you -
You are at the head of the largest private educational system in the world. With a wave of your hand you could create a Catholic Hero Engine that could bring world peace, end poverty, and accelerate the people into a future of peace and unimaginable prosperity. But to do this the Catholic church must accept the Grateful Seeker, must propagate the Grateful Seeker. If you propagate selfish hearts filled with a selfish hunger for heaven, and certain minds that claim to know the thoughts of God, you can never end war or poverty. Only the Grateful Seeker can and will solve these problems. Thus I must ask you -
Can I be a Catholic?