FATHER GUIDO
As I young Italian kid growing up in N.J. - right across the Hudson you saw the bright lights of N.Y.C. - back in the day [70’s] you had the rise of SNL [Saturday Night Live] it became an instant hit with the locals- and we were all treated to the ministry of Guido Sarducci- the Catholic comic who took his skit to the big screen.
Of course if you were an Italian Catholic- you could make fun- but if you weren’t- hey- don’t talk about my religion/culture! Italians are a proud people- and often times the Macaroni and Meatballs [which I just made this past Sunday] fit right in with the religious/cultural tradition- that is you tend to associate your religious views along with everything else- and in a way I’m okay with that [though you will find many teachers/preachers who are not.]
Italians also had a way of making excuses for those among us who had some type of physical/mental handicap. In Today’s world we realize that even the word Handicap is politically incorrect- but back in ‘the day’ we didn’t know any better.
It’s a funny thing with us Italians- we seemed to come up with some excuse- and that same excuse would get passed around- sort of like an oral tradition- and you would hear it used many times over.
I had a friend whose brother had somewhat of a disability- wasn’t too bad- but you could tell. And I guess his mom [good Italian family] always told him ‘if any of the boys ask about your brother- tell them that when he was young a bowling ball fell on his foot’. So I [and the other hoodlums] grew up- with this inner fear of bowling- why?
Another commonly used ‘tool’ was ‘the piano fell on his head’ geez- can we come up with something a little more believable? I mean after hearing that one a few times- I began asking myself ‘what’s wrong with us Italians- cant we either avoid ordering pianos- or avoid living in apts where people do order them- or at least not walk underneath them anymore’. Look- we are a proud people- and I’m sure brother Guido likes his job [at the furniture store] but enough is enough- someone needs to go down there and tell Guido ‘look brother- you have dropped so many darn pianos these last few years- your gonna do real damage to the entire Italian community- go get a job at the Pizza Parlor- please- before you kill us all!’
Well this gets me to the point- we- as people in general- associate our heritage with our religion [whether German Lutheran- Italian Catholic- or whatever]. We connect who we are- with what religion we embrace. As a proud Italian myself- I was glad to see- as I studied the history of Christianity and theology- that the Catholic church does indeed have a strong heritage- and that it’s okay to view the church as a good Christian church.
Now- this statement alone is enough to lose lots of ‘blog readers’ I mean in the realm of Protestant Christianity- this statement is often considered unforgiveable. But most ‘learners’ who study original sources- the church fathers- etc. most of us come to this conclusion based on the facts- that you see a very strong Catholic form of Christianity- very early on [2nd century].
You actually see some writings that speak about an early order for the Mass- and it’s surprisingly similar to what you see today. But of course you also have many doctrinal disagreements that Catholics and Protestants have fought over- and often times these 2 groups are disagreeing over things- that weren’t even part of the original ‘disagreement’ [16th century reformation.]
This discussion- cultural Christianity- has made it into the news in recent days. You had the tragic murders take place in Oslo- Norway- and the media has gone back and forth over whether or not the killer should be defined as a Christian Terrorist.
Oreilly made headlines by taking the N.Y. Times to task for doing a front page story on it- using the Christian term. Others have said that he was indeed a ‘Christian terrorist’. Some of the debate hinges on this ‘cultural Christian’ view. That is- if your view of Christianity is ‘lets go back to the medieval crusades- and re claim Europe once again for the white Christian population’ then the man was truly ‘Christian’ in a sort of cultural way- seeing it more as an historic cultural movement- and less thru the eyes of ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’.
As a matter of fact- the Oslo shooter says this very thing in his writings- that he chose to become a Christian by being baptized at the age of 15- in Norway’s state church- yet he does not see himself as having a personal relationship with Christ.
But these distinctions- though very alive and real amongst many Christian groups- are hard to make when simply covering the story of some nut who rants about going back to the crusades and fighting off the encroachment of radical Islam- so in a way- I think Christians cant totally disclaim the man- yet we can emphasize that true Christianity- like Oreilly said- does not teach murder.
Many years ago I went back North to attend the funeral of my uncle. I loved my uncle, as a kid he would take me- and my cousin Tara [his daughter] to the Ringling bro’s circus in N.Y. he would take us out to eat Chinese- and do stuff like that.
My dad [I later found out] always put up the cash- but my uncle enjoyed doing it. As the years went by- I realized that my uncle- Rudy- actually was involved with crime. How far up he made it on the ladder- I never really new. But I began to realize that he did have some involvement in the Italian mob scene in the area.
One time I was talking about some event that took place in N.J. [N.Y.] I think it was the world’s fair. I remember- my uncle had no recollection- then my dad quickly jumped in ‘oh Rudy- that’s when you were on vacation for a few years’ a few years? Who goes on vacation for a few years? O- now I get it- he was in jail [you know- the piano thing].
I used to do paint jobs with ‘the crew’. My dad, my uncle- and a few other guys. Juny was ‘the boss’. We actually did real- professional house painting- learned the trade and did it for a few years in Texas. But I later realized that they were all doing the crime thing [not my dad- he was in the group because they grew up together]. One time- a customer did not want to pay- after the job was done- I later found out that my dad and my uncle went and ‘made him an offer he couldn’t refuse’ he paid.
Anyway- I went back to Jersey and preached at his funeral. Boy- the place was packed- I mean it was like going to the casting of the God Father movie. As I talked- I simply did my best- realizing that many of these guys- like I said earlier- they have a culture- a tradition of being Italian- and Catholic. As I spoke I simply talked about the reality of the promise of eternal life in Christ- and shared about the lord’s supper- and gave some spiritual insight [I hope!].
Instead of trying to convince them to ‘change their religion’ I simply tried to focus them back on the main teachings of ‘their religion’ that all true Christianity is built upon the Cross- having the gift of eternal life because Jesus died and rose again. I emphasized the reality that all of these truths are based upon Christ- he purchased eternal life for us all- it’s not simply a matter of ‘what religion are you’ type of a thing.
After the funeral I had many people come up to me and thank me for the message- but I remember one person in particular. He looked to be around my age at the time [30’s] probably an Italian boy- grew up in the area [I guess] and probably did lots of the stuff I did as a kid.
In a way- I wondered if that would be me- or if he would be me- if we simply made a few different decisions in the early days.
He came up to me- looked me straight in the eye- and thanked me so much for ‘the talk’ I got the sense that he saw- for the first time- what everything was really about- that it’s not just a cultural thing- that life and death are very real things that we all deal with- and that he didn’t have to leave his religion- he just needed to understand more about what his church is all about.
Yeah- I was glad to see that he ‘got it’. I felt like I succeed that day- on the task of telling the truth- without having to make people believe everything I believe- just enough truth- truth that was right there before him his whole life- truth that just needed to break though.
Of course you can only do so much with these short trips- I mean if I had the time- I would have liked to have gone downtown- you know- to that piano store- and had a talk with old brother Guido- maybe speak to his union boss [who might have been at the funeral- you know- the mob connection] but time was running short. I guess there are kids living in Jersey right now- walking the same streets to school- ordering pizza at some famous spot- watching re runs of Father Sarducci. And of course- I’m sure they know someone- some friend or relative- well yes- when they asked ‘what happened to so and so’ the response was ‘the piano fell on his head’ geez- one word of advice to my Italian buddies- stay away from the damn pianos.