This past weekend, the Pilgrim Center of Hope hosted the Catholic Seniors’ Conference. During the Q&A time, guest speaker, Dr. Margarett Schlientz, proposed that we pray for ISIS. This hit a raw nerve with a man in the audience who asked whether she would pray for the Devil. Dr. Schlientz responded that we must pray for all souls. Having been a clinical psychologist for years, she saw many cases of people who were deeply wounded from experiences in their past that shaped their misguided thinking.
Wounded and twisted, but only God can know if they are beyond redemption or hope. And so we pray for even those who are the worst among us. And I ask myself, “Do churches and religious people make friends easily with those who are looked down on in society: jailbirds, prostitutes, drug addicts, drunks, thieves?” After all, “they” are surely not as close to God as the sinners who attend church. I’d like to tell you a true story…
Tony, a college professor of sociology, told the story of his visit to Honolulu. On his first night, he awoke at 3:00 am and left the hotel in search of something to eat. Tony found himself the only customer in a coffee shop until, suddenly, the place was filled with girls. From their conversation he learned a lot about Honolulu’s night life, for the girls were discussing their night’s work and their male clients. These girls were prostitutes.
Tony overheard Agnes, the girl sitting beside him, say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be thirty-nine.” Her friend responded in a nasty tone, “So what do you want from me? A birthday party? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday?'” Agnes responded, “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”
When he heard that, Tony made a decision. After the girls left the restaurant, Tony and Harry, the manager, discussed throwing a surprise birthday party, after all the girls came in there every night. The men got together in the afternoon and decorated the place and prepared a beautiful cake.
The next day, at 3:30 am, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friends. Everyone screamed, “Happy birthday!” Tony said he had never seen a person so flabbergasted…so stunned. Agnes’ mouth fell open. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. Then everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” Her eyes moistened. When the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.
Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she softly said, “Is it OK with you if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don’t eat it right away? I live just down the street. I want to take the cake home, OK? I’ll be right back. Honest!” And, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. When the door closed there was a stunned silence. Not knowing what else to do, Tony said, “What do you say we pray?” And they prayed for Agnes.
When finished, Harry said, with a trace of hostility in his voice, “Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words come, Tony answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”
And perhaps if he found a church like that he would give himself to a Savior like that.