Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students
file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith.
  That was the first day I first saw Tommy.

My eyes and my mind both blinked.
He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six
inches below his shoulders.  It was the first time
I had ever seen a boy with hair that long.
I guess it was just coming into fashion then.

I know in my mind that it isn't what's on your head
but what's in it that counts; but on that day
I was unprepared and my emotions flipped.
  I immediately filed Tommy under "S" for
strange .  .  .  very strange.

Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in
my Theology of Faith course.  He constantly
objected to, smirked at or whined about the
possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God.

  We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester,
although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the
back pew.

When he came up at the end of the course to turn in
his final exam, he asked in a slightly cynical
tone, "Do you think I'll ever find God?" I decided
instantly on a little shock therapy.  No!"
I said very emphatically. "Oh," he responded,
"I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door
and then called out, "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find him,
but I am absolutely certain that he will find you!"
He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.

I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he
had missed my clever line, "He will find you!"
  At least I thought it was clever.

  Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful.

Then a sad report. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer.

Before I could search him out, he came to see me.
When he walked into my office, his body was very
badly wasted, and the long hair had all fallen out
as a result of chemotherapy.  But his eyes were
bright and his voice was firm, for the first time,
I believe. "Tommy, I've thought about you so often.

I hear you are sick."  I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick.  I have cancer in both lungs.
  It's a matter of weeks." "Can you talk about it,
Tom?" I asked.

"Sure, what would you like to know?" he replied.
"What's it like to be only twenty four and dying?"
"Well, it could be worse." "Like what?"
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals,
like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing
women and making money are the real 'biggies' in
life."

I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S"
where I had filed Tommy as strange.
(It seems as though everybody I try to reject by
classification, God sends back into my life to
educate me.)

"But what I really came to see you about," Tom
said, "is something you said to me on the last day
of class."  (He remembered!)

  He continued, "I asked you if you thought I would
ever find God and you said, 'No!' which surprised me.

Then you said, 'But he will find you.' I thought
about that a lot, even though my search for God
was hardly intense at that time.

  (My "clever" line.  He thought about that a lot!)
But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin
and told me that it was malignant, then I got
serious about locating God.

And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs,
I really began banging bloody fists against
the bronze doors of heaven.
"But God did not come out.  In fact, nothing happened.
Did you ever try anything for a long time with great
effort and with no success?  You get psychologically
glutted, fed up with trying.  And then you quit.

  Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a
few more futile appeals over that high brick wall
to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit.

I decided that I didn't really care .  .  . about God,
about an afterlife, or anything like that.  I decided
to spend what time I had left doing something more
profitable.

 I thought about you and your class and I remembered something
else you had said: 'The essential sadness is to go
through life without loving.  But it would be
almost equally sad to go through life and leave this
world without ever telling those you loved
that you had loved them.'

So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad.
He was reading the newspaper when I approached
him." "Dad".  .  . "Yes, what?" he asked without
lowering the newspaper.

"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"Well, talk."
"I mean .  .  .  It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches.
"What is it?" "Dad, I love you.
I just wanted you to know that."

Tom smiled at me and said with obvious satisfaction,
as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing
inside of him, "The newspaper fluttered to the floor.

Then my father did two things I could never remember
him ever doing before.  He cried and he hugged me.
  And we talked all night, even though he had to go to
work the next morning.  It felt so good to be close
to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to
hear him say that he loved me.  It was easier with my
mother and little brother.  They cried with me, too,
and we hugged each other, and started saying real
nice things to each other.  We shared the things we
had been keeping secret for so many years.
I was only sorry about one thing:
that I had waited so long.

Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the
people I had actually been close to.  Then, one day
I turned around and God was there.

  He didn't come to me when I pleaded with him.
I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a
hoop, 'C'mon, jump through.' 'C'mon, I'll give you
three days, three weeks.' Apparently God does
things in his own way and at his own hour.  But the
important thing is that he was there.  He found me.

You were right.  He found me even after I stopped
looking for him."

"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are
saying something very important and much more
universal than you realize.  To me, at least,
you are saying that the surest way to find God is not
to make him a private possession, a problem solver,
or an instant consolation in time of need, but
rather by opening to love.

  You know, the Apostle John said that.  He said:
'God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living
with God and God is living in him.'

Tom, could I ask you a favour?  You know, when I
had you in class you were a real pain. But
(laughingly) you can make it all up to me now.
  Would you come into my present Theology of Faith
course and tell them what you have just told me?
  If I told them the same thing it wouldn't be half
as effective as if you were to tell them.

"Ooh ..... I was ready for you, but I don't know if
I'm ready for your class."

"Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready,
give me a call." In a few days Tom called, said
he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do
that for God and for me.  So we scheduled a date.
  However, he never made it.  He had another appointment,
far more important than the one with me and my class.

Of course, his life was not really ended by his
death, only changed. He made the great step from
faith into vision.  He found a life far more
beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the
ear of man has ever heard or the mind of man has
ever imagined.

Before he died, we talked one last time.  I'm not
going to make it to your class," he said.  "I know,
Tom." "Will you tell them for me?
  Will you .  .  .  tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tom.  I'll tell them.  I'll do my best."
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear
this simple statement about love, thank you for
listening.  And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the
sunlit, verdant hills of heaven:

  "I told them, Tommy .  .  .  as best I could."