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Bob and Steve: The Attractiveness of Spirituality PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, July 06 2004 19:00
My car was one of dozens and dozens that seemed to stretch along the highways and roads for at least a mile. We were following the hearse that carried my dear friend’s body the 15 miles or so from the church to the cemetery. I had never before seen such a long line of mourners taking the somber trip to the place of burial.

To me, the outpouring of people going to the cemetery was yet another sign of how much my friend was loved. Serving as pastor of the Catholic parish in Sharon for 25 years, Father Robert Bullock had forged deep bonds with the people who came to church there and with many others outside his church and local community. We all had many reasons for esteeming him but I suspect it was his deep and authentic spirituality that we found most attractive in him.

In dealings with their pastor, his parishioners knew that his faith not only remained solid but also grew and developed as he grew into later life. Despite the buffeting that his church has suffered in recent years, they knew that Father Bullock would be there for them with open-hearted service. As a parish priest, he put his people first and responded to their spiritual and other human needs generously.

Seeing the response at his funeral, I felt confirmed in my belief that spirituality attracts people, that sincere faith, expressed in spiritual exercises and public service, responds to the deep feelings of a great many people. As human beings, we want to find spirituality enfleshed in the lives of others, especially those who have emerged as leaders.

These same feelings surfaced in me in response to the ordeal of another friend, namely Steve Collins. For the last decade, he has served as executive director of the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, an organization that lobbies the state government to support services to those with various kinds of needs.

Now Steve is suffering what appears to be a disease that will end his life sometime soon. No longer is he able to work, but must endure an inner assault on his vital organs. The prospect of dying in middle age, only seven months after entering into marriage, must be difficult indeed.

I hope that he can take some comfort from the way his friends and associates responded in big numbers to a invitation for an event dubbed “For Steve.” At a meeting place in Boston’s Back Bay area, fans of Steve gathered to pay tribute to him as a person and in recognition of all that he has accomplished for others.

Among those accomplishments was an inventiveness that made office holders in state government willing to change priorities and provide money for social programs in need of funds. This he often did by making people laugh, rather than threatening them with political sanctions.  As the Boston Globe recently editorialized, he “used his humor like a weapon in the fight for economic justice.”

At the rally for Steve, Michael Dukakis, the former governor and nominee for president, said that Steve’s humor was more than a mere tactic. For Dukakis, it was a quality of mind and heart that, at certain times, could have served his own administration well.

What I said about Father Bullock also applies to Steve Collins. People have found Steve attractive because of his spirituality. It is his thirst for justice that has been widely recognized as deeply human, and also as a quality that comes from the soul.

On the surface, the spirituality of Father Bullock and that of Steve Collins admittedly seem quite different. The first operated in an explicitly religious setting whereas Steve worked in the secular world. But they shared a spiritual vision that had something in common, an unselfish dedication to the community of people who looked to them for support.

Of course, they probably shared much else, but spirituality is rooted in the secret places of the heart and cannot easily be described. I like to think that these two friends of mine, different yet sharing many values, have given a good name to spirituality.

The attractiveness that their people have found in the spiritual lives of these two men indicates once again how much we love to discover genuine spirituality in the life of others, as we strive to deepen our own spiritual life.

Bob Griffins