It’s funny, in a strange sort of way, how memories seemingly long gone, pop back into my mind from childhood every now and then. That happened to me the other day. It was of a moment in my early life of a powerful conversion. Permit a brief story which, according to me, illustrates the power of God to transform us through love.

It happened when I was in seventh grade, 12 years old, or thereabouts. To my mind, children and early teenagers, are some of the cruelest people on the face the earth. Some of the most hurtful and taunting things come from children’s mouths, directed toward each other. At this time in my life, I was no exception to this widespread tendency. I remember being both devastated by ridicule, and dishing it out with gusto.

One of the most dreadful chapters of my life in this regard was the ridicule and taunts I heaped on a classmate, Gabriel Ridell. Gabe, as we called him, was developmentally disabled to a slight degree. Somehow we knew it was because he had “water on the brain,” and could even see a tube just behind his hairline that was used to drain the water that accumulated there. Whatever his particular issues, the bottom line was that he had some social and cognitive challenges, and went to special education classes at our local school.

Poor Gabriel, we treated him horribly. I and others lived for the moment when he boarded our yellow school bus each day at his stop. I and others called out: “Gabriel….Ritard….Gabe the Reeetarrrrd.” I wince as I even think of it. Gabe, quite outnumbered,  knew little to do except turn and shake his fist at us and say “I know you are! But what am I?!”

So awful was our taunting and ridicule that the Bus driver had him sit in the front seat near her, and occasionally she would pull over and tell us to be quiet, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. In the afternoon, as he would leave the bus we taunted him, calling out the window with our usual venom. We thought we were so cool, but were mere merely cruel. Let me be more specific, I was cruel.

But one day, on the way home, something remarkable happened. Gabe’s stop was near the end of the bus route, and I, and he, and just a few other kids were left on the bus. I was well prepared to call out evil things from the window as he stepped of the bus, but something caused me to stop. There was a woman standing there, with the same red hair as Gabriel. Gabriel caught sight of her and called loudly and with joy through the open bus window: “Mom!!” And, as the door opened, Gabriel dashed out of the bus and into her arms. She hugged him tenderly. As the bus began to pull away, she took him by the hand and began to walk home with him; he overjoyed, she, a loving mother with her son.

I was dumbstruck, and sank in my seat. And suddenly, in a moment, I began to weep for my sins, utterly convicted of my cruelty, (I weep even as I type these words). Gabriel, whom I had depersonalized and so ridiculed, was deeply loved by his mother. He was lovable. The sight of this changed me in an instant. I never saw Gabriel the same again.

The next day I told Gabriel how sorry I was, and asked his forgiveness. When others began their taunts I told them to be quiet, and that Gabriel was cool, and we should leave him alone. I can’t say we became great friends, for we were in different grades and went to different classes. But I remained his friend and defender on the bus, and learned something of his story: how his mother had either been attacked or had fallen when she was pregnant with him (I cannot remember now which). His brain injuries stemmed from that time.

I wonder what of us all, now. What if we could somehow see the tender love that God has for everyone we know? Would it not change us, transform us, even in an instant? Yes, it would. I know that by experience. Merely observing Mrs. Ridell’s love for her son changed me in moment. Love can do that, that’s what love does. We would surely begin to love, understand, and befriend, even the difficult and troubling people we know.

Why not ask for the gift to see something of God’s love for others? I don’t suppose we could take a large dose of it, all at once, for surely we could not stop weeping for our sins. Perhaps even to ask that our eyes be gradually opened to the tender love of God for everyone around us, is best. And surely, even in this gradual way, we will begin to experience the gift of tears, and capacity to weep for our sins of indifference, of hardness, of inconsideration. And also, to experience joyful weeping in how delighted God is over our acts of kindness and consideration. Whatever the tears, fear them not, for they are healing tears, born in godly sorrow and joy.

Yes, seek the transformative power of a revealed and observed love. And if it comes to you, by God’s mercy, you will never be the same again.

25 Responses

  1. Grace says:

    Yes, kids can be horrible to each other.
    This brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Vijaya says:

    What a wonderful story. And what courage it must’ve taken for your 12-year-old-self to go against the grain and not only ask forgiveness, but befriend a child who’s being taunted. You were not afraid.

    I was one of the picked-on children growing up, given that I was small, had a terrible stutter, and could barely defend myself. However, when another child was bearing the brunt of my peers’ cruelty, I remember slinking off, thinking, better her than me.

    • Romulus says:

      The courage I’m thinking of is what Gabriel had to summon every day to step out of his safe, loving home and board the bus ride from hell. Enough courage evidently, even to overcome any temptation to bitterness, and to forgive one of his tormentors.

      Like Vijaya and Msgr. Pope, I too was a boyhood player in a similar evil drama. Truly, I don’t know whom it damages more — the victims or the persecutors. God have mercy on us all.

  3. Diane H. says:

    Monsignor, thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us, and I thank God for the gift of your vocation.

  4. Will says:

    Thanks for sharon Msgr. May the Lord bless you and keep you and Gabriel.

  5. Gretchen says:

    What an incredible story to share….I too had tears in my eyes. Thank you for reminding me to show love visibly today and everyday. The impact can be so great….

  6. Jon White says:

    Been there and done that, too – much to my everlasting regret. Thank God for His mercy on us all! \o/ + <

  7. Jon Zimmer says:

    I’ll never understand people who say that children are innocent. There’s a big difference between being innocent and being amoral. Children aren’t born knowing that it’s wrong to be cruel to those who are different. Others have to teach them that. Too many don’t.

    I have doubts about some Church teachings. Original Sin is *not* among the ones I doubt.

  8. jj says:

    Looking not at the past, I press forward in Christ Jesus. All is forgiven. Just ask Paul.

  9. Ikedi says:

    Now that original sin was mentioned, it’s amazing to see so clearly the reality and universality of what the Church teaches.

  10. John says:

    Thanks for sharing this powerful story.

  11. Taylor says:

    Indeed. It’s okay now. :-)

  12. Diana T. says:

    This was absolutely beautiful, and made me cry. From now if I have any feelings of irritation to anyone, I will imagine a mother anxiously waiting for them at the bus stop, and then remember that God loves each soul more than all of the mother love in all the world for all time. Thank you for your beautiful story. Your writings have helped my soul many a time. May God bless you now and in heaven.

  13. Ed says:

    This article should be read in every classroom in America. But it won’t be because it mentions God and sin,
    so it’s “politically incorrect”. Msgr. Pope’s vocation as a priest began the day he asked Gabe for his forgiveness.

  14. Bill Robberson says:

    Very touching Msgr. Pope-thank you! Regarding the “unseen” deformations i.e. the multitude of psychological personality disorders that seem to exist within so many families I can only say from personal experience to those who suffer from them and those who love them-hang in there-you are not alone! Hopefully you can help us deal with this far-flung tragedy of innocence Msgr.-many of us suffer in silence.

  15. Ramoncito P. says:

    Thank you for sharing Mgsr. Pope… truly inspiring. You witnessed God manifest Himself in the love of Gabe’s mother. These are the moments which changes us forever…

  16. Anne says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I wept. I have no more words.

  17. Ann says:

    Thank you. I need to print this one out.

  18. Donna Ruth says:

    “Why not ask for the gift to see something of God’s love for others? I don’t suppose we could take a large dose of it … ” Yes, you are right. God gave me an amazing window of grace about 10 years ago; it came completely unbidden, and, as you suggested, Msgr Pope, it was overwhelming to experience a large dose of it. I was in my car, waiting at a stoplight, and happened to glance over at a workman walking home with his lunchpail in hand. At first, I barely registered his progress, and in the next instant – I know this sounds too fantastic for words – I saw him as God saw him: beautiful, beloved, precious, glowing. In my mind I heard the words, “See how I love him; see how I love each one of you.” The man was literally bathed in God’s love. The sight was so overwhelming I had to put my head down and close my eyes; I could not embrace the utter beauty before me.

    Honking horns behind told me the light changed color, so I had to drive on, yet it seemed as if I had been there for an hour, a day – an eternity. I continued driving – stunned, gasping and crying – and a few dozen yards down the road I saw another person walking, and, again, I was permitted to see her as God saw her. This continued all the way home, and, finally, I came to the point where I had to drive with my eyes partially shielded by my hand. The beautiful love of God was impossible to gaze upon – and I knew I had been given a glimpse of heaven. Ten years later, it seems so far away, I can barely imagine it, but I know it was the hand of God. I could never have dreamed up something as exquisite as the sights I beheld. Did it change me? Yes, it was an enormous consolation which warmed my heart and soul for six months, preparing me for a rough stretch to come.

    God is good. Know that he loves us passionately.

  19. Kristine says:

    Beautiful. Thank you. And thank you Donna Ruth, too.

  20. Lupita says:

    Wonderful!!! Thank you very much! :)

  21. Jb says:

    As a mother of four, two with special needs, I can easily recall how difficult it was to drop off a child at a school where you know they are being bullied. Yes, children can be cruel, but often they have those behaviors reinforced by teachers and parents. (“No, ma’am, dyslexia isn’t contagious and your child won’t catch it from being in a classroom with my child.”)

    I didn’t always view those parents or teachers as children of God, given how they were treating my children. Thank you for this.

  22. Marie M says:

    One day not long ago as I drove home from dropping my two sons off at high school, I witnessed a sight that still moves me. There was a dad and a handicapped boy (probably about the same age as my 15 yo son whom I had just dropped off). The handicapped boy boarded the bus just in front of me, and he proceeded to the very back seat of the bus, turned around and began waving at his father. The bus drove on, and as I followed I saw the dad in my rearview mirror, waving at his son. He kept standing there waving (it seemed like 5 minutes he stood there) until the bus was completely out of sight. Many days I still pass them in the morning, and sometimes it’s the mom, other times, the dad standing there waving, waving, waving till they can no longer be seen. And every time, the tears well up in my eyes as I think of their deep love for their son. I think I finally realize now why the tears come. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for helping me to understand more deeply the Love of God.

  23. Heather says:

    As a mother who has a child formerly tormented on the bus (I now drive all my kids to and from school), Thank you. This brought tears to my eyes.

  24. Rachell Retzer says:

    Ok, whereas I can see the dangers of mothers diagnosing their children with illnesses such as Aspbergers, it took ME to diagnose my child as gluten intolerant after over a year of running to doctors, hospitals and other places to find out why my child was sleeping through most of the days and then waking up in such pain that she wanted to sleep again.

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