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JAMES BEHRENS: We are not the source of our salvation -- we need God

His name was Freddie Grunfelder. He was an old man who had problems and used to come by the rectory disheveled, unbidden and always desperate.

He had been wronged big time, or so he said. A family member had swindled him out of thousands many years ago and that event set him back to such an extent that it incapacitated him.

Every time he came, he gave me a stack of white legal-sized envelopes. Each envelope was slit across the bottom and the side and the envelopes were slipped inside of each other.

He wrote on all of them, always on just one side and the writing slanted crookedly across the envelope. The words spelled out the story of betrayal, hurt, anger, shock, loss and revenge.

Week after week, Freddie came with the envelopes and the same stories written on the envelopes in a style that might be best described as incoherent babble with a point, a point that pierced his heart for years. He drove a car, and I used to wonder about that. I suppose that he was able to get some lines right and straight.

I kept the envelopes for years. I moved out of the parish and am sure Freddie is long gone. Like us all, he was hurt in life but he did not know how to move on. The words he wrote repeated themselves like a scratched compact disc, over and over and over again.

He was a member of a parish, a living part of the body of Christ. In other situations, he may not have survived. He would have been cast aside, rendered expendable, perceived as useless to the betterment of human affairs.

He felt secure in church. People who knew him loved him in their own way. They looked out for him, occasionally slipped him a few dollars, some clothing, some food.

I used to wonder if there was someone who could crack his code, lift a sensible narrative from all those envelopes in such a way that a bright light would turn on in Freddie's brain and he would be transformed by a kind of enlightenment and get on with his life.

As far as I know, that never happened. He suffered a kind of death in his life and bore that cross as best he could -- and wrote about it, over and over in a kind of catharsis that got stuck.

He never seemed to be conscious of the help he was given. But that did not matter.

We are the body of Christ and as much as we strain and struggle to get this body in top form, we live and love from a perpetual wound that is the fate of being human. It seems that the best we can do is help each other along the way.

Beneath our eloquent words and our facades of normalcy, we share something common with Freddie Grunfelder. We are not the source and fulfillment of our salvation. We need God, a God who tells us that we need each other as much as we need Him.

The locus of God is this broken body of humanity, wherein there are people like Freddie who may drive straight but can only write with crooked and seemingly senseless lines. We are each a living blend of passable driving and desperate words that are scribbled on scraps of paper or on a battered heart.

The beauty that was Freddie lay in large part in his cry for help. Through that cry, he taught me to better know that it exists in everyone. It is the common ache that we all share, beneath our finely crafted words and seemingly tidy lives.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.