In 1982, just three years after I was ordained a priest, I taught high school in the Bronx. I met and worked with a priest who came at the right time in my life. His name was Frank Principe, and he was about 30 years my senior. While being one of the most brilliant people I’ve met, he was one of the most down to earth priests I have encountered in my almost 42 years as a priest. He had what we used to call when I was growing up “street smarts.”
When he was a young priest, he was in a parish where he first met this little kid named Martin Scorsese. It was a lifelong friendship. When Scorsese received an Academy Award, he credited Frank with having had a great influence on his life and opening his life to a larger world. The neighborhood where Scorsese grew up was a tough part of Manhattan. It is often portrayed in his movies. But Frank Principe, who worked with the youth of the parish, was known for getting Scorsese and other youth on the subway and taking them to places like art museums, particularly the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as movie theaters and Theater on Broadway. He would gather with them afterwards and talk with them about what they had seen. Frank wanted them to know that there was a bigger world out there than just where they grew up.
I remember one day talking with Frank in the religion department faculty room. We got into a conversation about great spiritual writers who had influenced our lives. Of course, I was talking about Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, Richard Rohr and others. I asked Frank who he read and who was his favorite spiritual writer. Without a breath, he said, “Dostoyevsky.”
I said to myself, “Dostoyevsky?” Fyodor Dostoyevsky would not be a name that would come to my mind right away in response to my question. But Frank was offering me what he had offered Martin Scorsese. Opening me to a larger world.
I don’t know if you have ever read Dostoyevsky, but I have a little bit and recently came across a quote from his novel The Brothers Karamazov. It is a quote that speaks very powerfully to me in these times we find ourselves. The sign of a writer and writings that speak throughout time. We need to hear this now. I want to share it with you and leave it at that. I hear Frank Principe continuing to open me to a larger world of hope.
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
– Fr. GeorgeTags: Hope for the Journey