My best friend is one of the most Catholic people I know. Only he’s not Catholic. But we can all learn something about being Catholic from him and his life.
His mother and father came here with five children from Vietnam with $50, and they split that with two other families who arrived with them.
They proceeded to work their tails off, mom and dad working two or three jobs apiece, while my friend who was the oldest did his best to watch his smaller siblings and keep them in line while his parents were toiling.
They believed in America, and they were so grateful to be here, regardless of how hard they had to work. They knew they had an opportunity to give their children a life of freedom, prosperity and opportunity they never would have had under a communist dictatorship.
Here they were fortunate enough to meet many caring people who offered them not only jobs but also an education, specifically the principal at St. Francis Xavier grade school and a local grocer. The grocer offered to pay half the tuition for my best friend and his siblings to attend school there if the school would front the other half.
That’s where I met him. And that’s where he excelled by leaps and bounds to achieve great grades, great knowledge and great compassion — hallmarks of great Catholicism.
His father eventually worked his way up to becoming the plant manager for a local high-tech company and could pay the tuition himself, something he was only too happy to do for the incredible education.
My friend and his siblings went on to achieve greatness, each one of them getting advanced degrees and becoming lawyers, teachers, and my best friend going to work for the same company his father was a plant manager for, only as a high level executive after receiving his MBA.
If the story ended there, it would still be an amazing American success, but there’s more.
This friend, besides being there for me through thick and thin, ready to give me the shirt off his back if I needed it, has become a sort of saint for immigrants.
That all started a few years ago at the beginning of the housing crisis. When he saw all the homes in nearby neighborhoods abandoned and falling into disrepair, he decided to buy them and fix them up, and rent them out.
But rather than getting the highest price for these rentals, he rented to people whom he thought had the greatest need and would use these homes as a place to start a new life in America for themselves and their families.
I have watched him turn down renters with more money, better credit, or more polished looks because he knew that it would mean so much more to those who had less.
He doesn’t do this so he can take credit – in fact he prefers to pretend to be a hardcore business man with a heart of stone. Only his actions drown out his protestations.
He doesn’t do this for a tax break — in fact he pays more taxes than he should.
I know he does it because of what he learned when he watched his father share what little they had with others.
I know he does it because of how much he valued the opportunities that others gave him as a child of an immigrant family struggling to make it in America.
I know he does it because it was the way our Catholic teachers, priests and nuns taught him to respect our fellow brothers and sisters — that compassion, love and service to others was at the core of how to be Catholic.
And I know he does it because he chooses of his own moral volition to care, sweet and simple.
As we get ready for another election and both sides of the political aisle tell us what’s “really” important, hopefully my non-Catholic friend’s story can remind all of us Catholics of what is really important, today, tomorrow and forever: So that we can personally see Christ’s face in those that come our way, and then help relieve their pain in whatever way God has made it possible for us to do so.
Long live Catholicism and God bless America.