I have just read the post by Pete Socks where he spoke of his interview with Fr. Larry Richards. I would recommend reading his article “Pray for our Priests” and his interview at CatholicBookBlogger.com if you have not already done so. What you will find from Mr. Socks is a man who is completely taken with this priest, a priest unlike any other.
I know, because Fr. Larry has the same effect on me.
When I was 17 years old, I went on a retreat called Teens Encounter Christ. That weekend is the turning point of my life. It is what separates my life into before and after. I had done several other renewals and retreats up until this point. But I was not prepared for what was to come.
I knew very few people who were going to be there that weekend and I was someone given to shyness. As I was being led into the dorms, the man carrying my bags pointed to the lumbering figure dressed in black walking towards us. The man next to me said, “This is Fr. Larry Richards. He’s our spiritual director for the weekend.” I extended my hand to say hello.
Fr. Larry did not say hello. Instead, without a word, he grabbed me into a fully twisted headlock and asked very loudly, “YOU’RE GOING TO BECOME A PRIEST, RIGHT?” To which I eeked out a timid yes. That was my first inkling that this TEC weekend would be unlike any other.
I was unsure what to make of him. But as the weekend went on I listened and I watched. And something happened.
I am reminded of a story told of St. John Vianney, the Cure d’ Ars. An atheist lawyer told a friend that he was going to Ars to hear John Vianney speak. He did this with the intention of mocking him. When the lawyer returned, he declared his intention to be baptized. His friend asked him what John Vianney said that could convince him to convert. The lawyer said that he heard none of the Cure d’ Ars’ words. He said he knew he had to convert, because when he looked at St. John, “I saw God in a man.”
When I met Fr. Larry Richards, I saw God in a man.
Much of his words and teachings I had heard before. Like most young Catholics, I struggled with the Church’s teachings on things like women’s ordination, homosexuality, contraception, and the like. His answers were nothing new.
Instead, what changed me was the witness of the man himself, not his words. I have never in my life met someone who is so single-heartedly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, I was surrounded by many good and pious people, being raised in a Catholic home and attending Catholic school. But in that setting, religion was a part of life. For Fr. Larry, Christ IS his life. And once I had a real and true meeting with Christ, the wisdom and veracity of the Church’s teachings became clear as day.
Fr. Larry is fond of quoting Galatians 2:19-20:
“For I have been crucified with Christ and yet I live, and the life that I live now is not my own, but Christ lives within Him. I still live my human life, yes, but I live in the faith in the Son of God Who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”
For Fr. Larry, his life is not his own. Every ounce of his passion, intellect, effort, and talent is dedicated to making visible in his life the invisible God.
And I don’t mean to be hagiographic about the man. He always presents his flaws to us. While holding himself up to the highest of all standards, he does not allow himself to be raised upon a pedestal. I worked many retreats with Fr. Larry and he displayed all of his human flaws. There were times when he was angry and impatient. He often cites his anger has his biggest struggle. But he does not excuse this vice in himself. He constantly brings his sins to the Lord and openly admits them to the people he serves.
So many of us want others to only see our good side. Fr. Larry is too genuine for that. He will not hide his heart, flaws and all. He would probably balk at the title of this article, because he knows that he is not the one who is important.
He said, “The only thing you get if you get closer to Fr. Larry is hell. My mission is not to give you myself, but to give you Christ.” And he has never stopped trying to give Christ to everyone he meets. He travels all over the country, all over the world and still runs his home parish.
To learn more about him, I would agree with Mr. Socks and tell you to read Be a Man. There you will find the gauntlet thrown down and the challenge of holiness is presented in a way that demands we take up the charge.
But beyond his words, the man himself is what changed me.
I am reminded that Christ spoke the most beautiful, revelatory words every spoken on Earth. But his greatest sermon was the silent suffering on the cross. That is why our Catholic art, our Catholic culture is filled with crucifixes. It is the ultimate sign of who God is and what love is. The cross gives witness to the truth of the words that came before them.
Fr. Larry Richards changed my life because he lives the cross. He does not live for himself. He lives only for Christ. He is human and flawed like all of us, but as the late Rich Mullins once said, God can take even our flaws and make them virtues. Fr. Larry said that when he was young he was told he should be a lawyer because he was a loud mouth. Christ took that “loud mouth” and turned it into a trumpet of the Lord’s Word. Fr. Larry often speaks about his struggles with temper. But Christ placed into his heart an anger at sin and injustice, and that fuels his passionate crusade for souls.
I heard Fr. Larry once say, “You know, your life may be the only Gospel some people ever read.” He did not say that our words or our teachings would be the only Gospel, but our lives. The totality of who we are will bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.
I have been teaching high school for 14 years. And I can tell you that more important than having the right words or creating a clever lesson is having a heart completely surrendered to the Lord. Fr. Larry often says that we have to get out of the way and let Christ take over.
I have tried to take Fr. Larry’s lesson to my own life. I don’t hide my flaws from my students. And I try with all of my heart to live the life that I preach. I often fail, sinner that I am. But I know that I must be Christ to them and serve Christ in them.
I would not be the man I am without Fr. Larry Richards.
And if any souls come to salvation through my work, I know it will only be by the grace of God given to my through Fr. Larry.
Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson