Anthony Bloom was asked once in an interview about turning points in his journey toward Christ. Until his teenage years Bloom was “an unbeliever and very aggressively anti-church.” He knew no God and was repulsed by any ideas relating to God. As a boy, young Anthony spent many years in boarding schools as a result of his father’s itinerancy at the time of the Russian Revolution. During this time Bloom recalls his first “spiritual experience”:
I was sent to a boys’ summer camp when I was about eleven years old and there I met a priest who must have been about thirty. Something about him struck me – he had love to spare for everyone and his love wasn’t conditioned by whether we were good and it never changed when we were bad. It was an unconditional ability to love. I had never met this in my life before. I had been loved at home, but I found it natural. I had friends too and that was natural, but I had never met this kind of love. At the time I didn’t trace it to anything, I just found this man extremely puzzling and extremely lovable. Only years later, when I had already discovered the Gospel, did it occur to me that he loved with a love that was beyond him. He shared out divine love to us, or if you prefer, his human love was of such depth and had such scope and scale that he could include all of us, either through joy or pain, but still within our love. This experience I think was the first deep spiritual experience I had.
In the midst of his spite and opposition to the church, this young boy was met face-to-face with the love of God, and could not make sense of it. I just found this man extremely puzzling and extremely lovable. Bloom recalls this event as the first in a series of his journey toward God in which Christ made his Presence known through the kindness and love of a person.
Stories like Bloom’s make me ask myself, “Am I living in such a way that my unconditional love for others is found to be puzzling?” When I am with family and friends, those who are easy to get along with and whose presence I enjoy, loving is easy. But that love is not puzzling, because it is common and we don’t find it to be a chore. Love that is puzzling, however, stands out because, like the priest in Bloom’s story, it does not arise from our evaluation of persons as good or bad, lovable or unlovable. It is not extended with expectations.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:32,35).
All italicized words are quoted from
Bloom, Anthony. Beginning to Pray. New York: Paulist Press, 1970.
– Cameron MacMillan ‘16