When I was a high school teacher, we used to get out the canoes and run the rapids of the Little Nation River on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. When the going got rough, we would take a swig of Nanuk from a little white whiskey bottle which had a polar bear pictured on its label. The fire water burned all the way down our esophagus, and was so potent that it could have been used to ignite our fires later on in the day. That was our crutch, and it got us through the narrows.
And so when Marcus Grodi, Presdent of The Coming Home Network, told a canoe story during one of his speeches at the “In Search of Truth,” conference presented by Catholic Chapter House over the weekend at Canada Christian College in Toronto, I took it all in, hook line and sinker.
Marcus had been steering a canoe down a treacherous part of a river while doling out the odd piece of advice on how to survive the rapids, to his inexperienced partner kneeling at the front.
As the current pulled them closer to shore, they passed under an overhanging branch, and the girl grabbed it in an attempt to slow down the canoe. The canoe flipped and they were sucked down the river, but fortunately managed to make it to shore. Later on while being teased by his peers, Marcus kindly said nothing about the girl grasping the branch to the others, but he did have a lot to say about it to us.
Mr. Grodi advised us to grasp at nothing, and this advice hit home with me because I am by nature a grasper. I have a strong grip, and have always grabbed things along the way, especially if I am afraid of falling, stumbling or tipping over. It seems to be a natural tendency, even if it is a crutch, and can be very dangerous, often stopping my progress in an instant.
When Blessed John Paul II would exhort me to “Be not afraid,” I would still resist, and look for those overhanging branches to grab. It reminds of the movie “127 Hours,” when the hiker is suspended in a crevasse with his hiking boots pushing the rock wall on one side and his back pushing from the other. Below him is a drop of some sixty feet, all down a very narrow chute, ending in a cold pool of crystal blue water. Without any warning, he lets go, and free falls with the rock wall inches from his nose. The two female climbers who are with him look at each other as if to say, “Who is he kidding?” This sort of trust and bravery spooks me out.
I ask myself, “Could I do it if I had to?” Would I have the guts to stop pushing out with my feet and back, and simply quit grasping the wall so to speak? Marcus Grodi'smessage came through loud and clear and then some. We spend our lives grasping things, collecting, hoarding, and most of it is superfluous, and halts our progress towards Jesus' kingdom.
When I was a high school teacher, and I felt tired from the grind, I used to tune into Billy Graham's Crusade, which was broadcast from different football stadiums across the USA. Reverend Graham spoke with command, and a seriousness which was unnerving at times. He spoke of the family, and what God meant it to be, and he always had the Bible by his side. I used to wonder how a non-Catholic could speak directly to me, and move me so much. I fact, I enjoyed Billy Graham a lot more than many of the homilies I was hearing at Mass on Sundays.
Marcus Grodi is cut from the same cloth. Like Billy Graham, he uses his hands to emphasize his points, he lifts his Bible up for all to see, and he opens it up to the verses he wants to use. The Bible becomes his prop, and the medium is the message. This is the magic of their speaking style, and both men possess it to perfection.
And even though these two preachers have not been anointed in the tradition of the apostles, directly from Saint Peter, they have a great deal to teach us about being faithful Christians in a secular society.
So let us all pray that Billy Graham will one day come home to the Catholic Church, just as Marcus Grodi did, so that we can welcome him with open arms after his long journey home.
Now that would be cause for celebration.