Decency Inspired Religion — Story of the Two Marys (Book Excerpt)

Consider inspiration  that religion has to offer, even to secular people like me. Many years ago, when Dale (my wife)  and I were on a service trip to Haiti, we shared a guesthouse with the “two Marys,” spunky young nurses from St. Louis. Devoted Catholics, they worked as unpaid volunteers for several months, each year, tending to the sick in one of Port-Au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Marys would begin each day at Mass and, one morning, Dale suggested that we join them. I had been to Catholic churches back home. But nothing from my U.S. experience – sitting through Masses in ornate sanctuaries with people who’d be spending the afternoon at their children’s soccer games – prepared me for what unfolded that day.

This church was a cinder block room, punctuated with cutouts in the walls to let in Port-au-Prince’s already hot, early morning breeze. The pews were straw mats thrown over a dirt floor. But in this unassuming environment, a lesson in the power of belief lodged in my heart.

Surrounded by a handful of Catholic lay workers and half a dozen Sisters of Charity, an unassuming Creole-speaking priest ran through the liturgy in a perfunctory way. But when my fellow congregants took communion – on their way to a day tending the some of the world’s most desperately poor people – the power of Jesus’ message hit me. These people really were taking in the blood and flesh of Christ and, then, “embodying” Him – in a powerful, indeed, almost literal sense of that term – they were making His message and example manifest in the world.

What I realized, in that moment, was that I was witnessing the breathtaking ability of faith, at its best, inspire and sustain the best within us. As I move through my days, seeking to do my part to create a more decent world, I can only hope that, true to their memory, I am carrying forward the lesson the two Marys taught me that day.