by Davis Shryer
Dan's Note: This piece is longer than I usually allow on Transformation is Real. However, it's worth a read! I was really touched by Davis' perspective of the priest sharing his recovery story. Davis has written on Transformation is Real before, and I'm honored by his words to share this one with you now.
One of the privileges of being in recovery from drugs and alcohol is hearing individual stories of recovery. Many are remarkable, and several years ago, I listened to a touching account from a Catholic priest who found his way into recovery, after receiving treatment at Hazelden. His story was warm and engaging, and I began to think: What would a movie screenplay be like which told the story of a parish priest who is deeply committed to his job, but constantly falls short of expectations because of his all-consuming passion for alcohol? I have written such a screenplay, called The Good Father. What follows is an excerpt from that play; a sermon our fictional priest - Father Quinn - gives after he has found redemption through treatment and has returned to the parish he holds so dear. I hope you enjoy reading. — Davis M. Shryer, III
Act I, Scene V
Camera angle is from above and towards the back of the interior of the chapel of a church, almost as from the balcony. We eventually come to realize it is the sanctuary of St. Francis Church. The pews are full with well-dressed people, primarily middle-aged. There are a few younger couples and the occasional baby crying. Father Quinn is at the pulpit dressed in white, which matches the theme of the altar, decorated in white and gold. Each cross is gold. A tall stained glass figure of Christ, arms open with palms up, a solemn portrait of reassurance, large above the altar. Father Quinn is addressing the congregation. Never has he looked so relaxed, so confident, his voice strong above the congregation, who are held in rapt attention.
Fear... It’s part of the human condition to feel fear. Regularly. It is hard-wired into our biology, a product of evolution, for those who believe in such. You’ve heard the expression “fight or flight”, a reference to the mammalian response to a perceived threat. But it’s much more insidious than that. Fear is pervasive, subtle. We all know it. Look to your left and then to your right.
Your partner feels fear; your friend feels it. We ask ourselves: Am I good enough? Will my children turn out okay? Does my employer value me? Do I make my partner happy? What happens if I fail? Some of live in a state of perpetual anxiety, questions such as these rattling around our heads, robbing us of our sleep, of our peace, of our connection to others. We feel isolated, alone, certain we are the only ones to have this doubt wrap it hands around our throats. I‘m certain Christ felt great fear, and not just when he was upon the cross. In his sermons to his apostles, it became apparent to me that Christ was a man plagued by deep uncertainty – this is documented in the history. His friends saw it. The apostle Paul, who was closer to Christ than just about anyone, spoke of Christ’s grave doubts and how his fear would lead to anger. Luke 20 & 21 describes the famous story of Christ driving the moneylender’s from the Temple of Herod, accusing them of turning it into a “den of thieves”. Clearly he was angry, and what is anger but fear turned outward? Yes, it is normal to be afraid, but we are not accustomed to this admission, for others may think less of us. This can be especially hard for men, to admit their fears. Men must be strong at all times, ala John Wayne in the movies, quietly certain of his moral right and never afraid to use his fists….hmmm, not the heritage we really want for our sons, is it?
So what is the legacy of this fear? Our bodies speak to us at all times. This country is experiencing depression and anxiety in record numbers. Heart disease and stroke, two conditions tied to stress, which what could easily be the stress of coping with this very real fear we ALL feel. The most commonly prescribed medications in this country today? Antidepressants such as Prozac. Doctors report insomnia and in record numbers, prescribing sleep aides by the handful. The second most prescribed medication? Those used for indigestion, such as Zantac or Nexium. And it’s pretty clear indigestion can be tied to anxiety.
So how do we cope? What is the answer to this plague of fear that we are experiencing? Is it to seek to understand why we feel that way? Ramp up our visits to the therapist? Read the next self-help book? Perhaps, but to my experience, the answer lies within the most commonly ignored four-letter word in our vocabulary: Love.
The Course in Miracles teaches us there are only two true emotions: Fear and Love. So, to escape fear, the simplest answer is to instead choose to love. To express love to another at every opportunity, and to gracefully accept love when it is given. Love your neighbor. Love your children. Love your spouse. Give your love, no hesitation, no questions, no doubt. The more fear we are experiencing, the more doubt that plagues us, the more we are called to do something loving for another.
Frankly, I learned this lesson as a teenager, before I had any idea I would be called to the Priesthood. I was going on a date with a girl from my parish. I had a crush on her a mile long . . . beautiful blonde hair and a dazzling smile, so warm. I was terrified. My father, in one of his rare, sane, sober moments, spotted my fear. He asked and I told him . . . partly out of fear that he would get angry if I didn’t tell him. He smiled when I explained I was sure I would fail and she would reject me. His answer was simple: “Marty, just love her. Don’t ask questions, don’t get caught up in your doubt. Just love her . . .” And that is all he said. It made perfect sense and in fact, it was the best date I ever had. We had a wonderful time, went to the local carnival and rode the Tilt-a-Whirl and ate cotton candy. We laughed a lot. Sadly, she moved away with her family before the end of the summer, or who knows, we may have been married someday, and I would not be your priest after all! Just Father Quinn of a different sort… (soft laughter from the congregation).
In my experience, to love is to be free. Of course, such attitude doesn’t come without serious effort and courage. Courage is another expression of love and faith that’s also misunderstood. For so long in my life, I felt a coward because I was plagued by fear. I kept it secret of course, no one could know I was afraid. Heck, if the heroes in books and movies could face the demons head on by flexing their superpowers, I should do the same. Clearly, they felt no fear, that courage was the absence of fear in their lives. But with the help of some other courageous folks in my life, I began to see that courage was learning to move forward, despite the shackles of fear. Mark Twain said it best: what is courage but acting in spite of our fear, not the absence of fear.
I ask you to step out of yourselves, even if it is but for a moment today, take a moment of real courage, and show your neighbor your love. Help them, without any expectation of obligation or repayment. Help someone rake their yard. Deliver a meal to those who cannot get out. Take a minute with a child and hold them. Love unconditionally, even when you don’t feel it. It’s what we’re called to do. And how do I do this, you may ask? Well, one of the greatest gifts of love is to listen to someone as they speak. To truly listen. To hear what they say and affirm what they say…that what you say is real, and what you feel is real, and here is my gift of love to you, to listen and appreciate you for exactly who you are. No exception, no qualifiers, no doubt. And I will close with this: I love you. I love you all. I love you more than I can say. And it is in that love that I pray and hope and pray that you will feel joy, and in turn, share that love with your neighbor, as uniquely as only you can. Blessed be, and let us pray, a prayer written by Fr. Thomas Merton:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. "I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." (Quoted from “The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton”).
Copyright: “The Good Father” — Screenplay by Davis M. Shryer III
About the Author
Davis is a father, reader, writer, frustrated athlete and generally good guy. He has lived in St. Paul, Minnesota most of his adult life. Davis followed a dream at middle-age and returned to school to receive two Master's Degrees. He is employed as a counselor at the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, and also performs periodic interventions. He works on the screenplay in his spare time.