On Becoming More Authentic
On Becoming More Authentic
by Dan Vanoli
Long before “authenticity” became a mantra for our men’s work, I was aware of that quality in others and I longingly admired it wondering if I could ever be that genuine, that vulnerable, that humbly confident of who I was and where I was going. I could look into the eyes of certain men and women and there was a crystal clarity about them; I could see no hidden agenda there. They gave you their complete attention, and held nothing back; there was this openness, this vulnerability – I guess the word is grace.
I suppose the best thing I can do is give you a real-life example of authenticity surrounding someone familiar. My brother Joel came down with a rare kidney cancer in 2012. Ten years before he had introduced me to Father Richard Rohr – first, by buying me his book Everything Belongs, and second, in a face-to-face introduction at an Eternal Now conference that we attended in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was blown away by the conference and especially Richard whose humility was evident at first contact. I asked my brother how he came to know him. He said he first heard Richard when he said Masses back in Cincinnati, and he kept going back to hear his homilies.
Then my brother told me this story: He was so impressed with Richard, he took our mother to hear Richard speak at Mass. First you need to know this: our mother had a learning disability and never got out of grade school; she was childlike and had a kind heart, and she prayed – a lot. When it was time for Richard to speak and the church became deathly quiet, our mother started to raise her hand and to make excited exclamations to be recognized. My brother said he tried to pull her hand down, and perturbed folks all around her were shushing her. After all, they had come to hear Richard, not her. But Richard raised his hand, quieted the crowd, and told her to speak. My mother said with a smile, “I just wanted to say one thing: that I know Jesus loves me!” My brother said that Father Richard smiled at her, and then asked if there was anyone else in the crowd that wanted to give a testimony to the Lord. I know how Joel felt because I knew how I’d have felt, and for Richard to rescue the moment and display that gracious gift on our mother by saving her from needless embarrassment says a lot about Father Rohr’s authenticity.
But several months before my brother Joel died, I witnessed this authenticity for myself. My brother’s confidence in beating his cancer was waning, but he asked me if I could take him one last time to see Richard speak in person. So I took him to a retreat in Ligonier, PA in which Father Richard was the director. I emailed Richard and told him of my brother’s condition and asked him if he would place hands on him and give him a blessing. Of course, he agreed. So my brother Joel and I arrived there to find that the retreat started with a meal in the cafeteria, but Joel was too weak to stand so we found a chair off to the side for him to sit while we waited for the line to go down. Father Richard came in and noticed my name tag and asked where Joel was. Richard immediately went to Joel and physically helped him to his reserved table; and then Richard went through the cafeteria line to get Joel’s food for him. Richard served my brother. He then spent some precious minutes privately consoling Joel one on one at his table. I don’t know what was said, but I do know Richard’s talk fueled my brother’s coming to terms with his death. My brother died two months later.
In our men’s work we rely heavily on the guidance that Father Richard writes in his many books and delivers in his fantastic lectures, but I wanted to share these stories with you to show you that Father Richard not only instructs us in ways we can be more authentic but he demonstrates this authenticity in his actions. I believe we all have the capability of that same authenticity, and I cannot think of a nobler goal than striving to be a more authentic man!
April 8, 2019
Dan has participated in a Men's Rites of Passage and has been involved with Ohio Illuman for many years. He helps to organize and facilitate local councils among men in Southwest Ohio. Dan and his wife Beth are also integral to the efforts to restore St. Paul's Methodist Church in Downtown Dayton, and along with others are building it into a community resource for the neighborhood by offering a food pantry, programs for kids, weekly liturgy and many other services.