I shared this story a while back at a prayer and reflection night we did at the church I was at. While a true story, I also think it is a powerful picture and parable of what the can and should be… a place that heals and restores people’s souls. That’s what church should be all about… creating spaces for people encounter God and become fully devoted to following Him!
In his book, “The Furious Longing of God,” Brennan Manning tells the story of Larry Malaney, a student he encountered while teaching at a small university in Ohio in the late 1960’s. He describes Malaney as an outcast whose appearance and demeanor isolated him from fellow students. “In all my days,” Manning writes, “I have never seen anyone with such low self-esteem.”
Malaney was a self-proclaimed agnostic who challenged Manning on matters of faith in their continuing conversations.
One Christmas, however, there was a change in Larry Malaney. He returned home to Providence, Rhode Island to his father with whom he had an estranged relationship.
Manning describes the student’s father as a “typical lace-curtain Irishman,” meaning that he was a prim and proper man who in the midst of the hottest summer day would dress in a suit and tie to come to the dining table in his own home.
His expectations for his son were not being met and their time together often erupted in disagreement. As was their usual pattern, there was conflict and resolution, yielding unsatisfactory results to both men. After a few nights at home, Larry announced to his dad that he would be returning to Ohio the next morning.
The father asked what time the boy was leaving and declared that he would ride the bus with him as far as the father’s office where the son would have to change busses for the last part of his journey to the airport.
They traveled in silence that morning until the bus came to a stop in front of the textile factory where the father worked. Both men got off the bus and expected the kind of good-bye that neither would be fulfilled by.
Before they could speak, however, a group of men across the street began to make fun of Larry’s appearance, calling him all sorts of names that were brutally cruel. Larry had heard them before and expected nothing more than to board the second bus and leave his father behind with the taunts of these men, perhaps a reflection of his own father’s feelings. Then something happened that had never happened before.
The proper, lace -curtain Irish father, embraced his son for the first time in his life, kissed him, and said, “Larry, if your mother and I live to be two hundred years old, that wouldn’t be long enough to thank God for the gift he has given us in you. I am so proud that you are my son.”
It was a different student that Manning encountered upon his return from Christmas break. His demeanor changed, even his appearance as he seemed to have a different outlook on life.
Not long after, Larry Malaney came to Brennan Manning’s office and said, “tell me about this man, Jesus,” Over the next six weeks the two men shared and when their time was completed, Larry said “Okay,” and with that continued a genuine search for an authentic faith.
He was ordained a priest in the Catholic church a few years later and spent more than twenty years as a missionary in South America. “Do you know why (this happened)?” Manning asks. He concludes, “It wasn’t because of the six weeks of sitting in Brennan Manning’s office while I talked about Jesus.
No, it was because of a day long ago, during a Christmas vacation, standing at a bus stop, when his lace-curtain Irish father healed him. Yes his father healed him. He looked deeply into his son’s eyes, saw the good in Larry Malaney that Larry couldn’t see for himself, affirmed him with a furious love, and changed the whole direction of his son’s life.”