Updated: May 13
I happened to go to the gym late in the evening. That's when I met one of the most interesting guys in my life. I noticed people working out in the aerobics and Yoga room, where the ladies dance and stretch to music, but it was ten at night and the lights were off. (For some reason, the gym staff doesn't think the class is worth the electricity. They still don’t to this day.)
Well, I'm paying more and more attention because they look like they're practicing martial arts. So I go in and say, “Hi, I noticed you guys are working out and I was wondering if I could watch.” The teacher is friendly and direct and in really good physical condition. He is teaching old school, hard-core Japanese Jiu Jitsu that he's learned and practiced for the past few decades.
He shows us some moves and blocks; then he invites one of the students to punch him. But first he takes out from under his shirt a cross with a Benedictine medal on it, saying he wouldn't want us to hit this. “Ah!” I know what that is, and flag an opportunity in my mind to speak with him after class. Back to the action: he barely moves after being hit by the punch. Then he tells the student it's his turn, he smiles and raises his hand in the air, then simply drops it, casually hitting the student in the chest. The poor guy goes staggering back about six feet and we learn something new about defensively employing simple body mechanics and the “soft way” of Jiu Jitsu. After class I follow Sensei out and mention I noticed his medal. He is friendly and engaging, and tells me something of his heritage and past.
A few weeks go by, and I’m back at the gym working out and see him again. He's sitting with a towel around his shoulders, like he'd been working out. I walk up and say, “Hi,” and it took him a second to recognize me, like he was preoccupied with something. “Oh, hi,” he says. Then he invites me to sit down next to him and asks me a question about religion, something someone else was challenging him on and he wasn’t sure of the answer: Why St. Paul could correct St. Peter in Scriptures about eating pork, if St. Peter is supposed to be infallible? I know and explain the reason: that the issue was not of doctrine but of discipline. He says he understands and thanks me. I notice, then, that he was holding an envelope and a binder. The binder was filled with pages of photos of himself and another black belt working out different exercises in Judo, Aikido and related martial arts. He asked me if I wanted to know what he did for Christmas. “Sure,” I say, smiling. I had no idea what he was about to tell me. He focuses himself, looks around to see no one is nearby and hands me the envelope. “Don't let people see those pictures,” he says in a more serious tone. I take them out and am stunned--photos of dead bodies, cars shattered with bullets, an arsenal of guns! Whoa! This is scary stuff. “Um, what are these?” I ask him warily. He tells me he's a Marine who works for Black Ops (Operations), a special force in the military that is sent out on secret, James Bond-like missions. His last mission was to go to escort a high-level drug dealer to prison. Then he tells me the story: He is in a car with a driver and the drug lord, and another car, part of his “team,” drives in front to act as a decoy. They are playing Ranchera music, the kind that drives me crazy with the heavy brass oompahs. He is wearing a sombrero. He's says he's not happy about the music and I laugh, telling him I’ve been surrounded by it in various parishes where I’ve lived.
He relates how all of a sudden two cars race down the street towards the decoy car, thinking that's where the drug dealer is, and they open fire, blasting the car to smithereens with high powered machine guns. The driver didn't survive. That's when his driver steps on the gas and he begins to shoot with deadly aim at these bullet-proof cars with a .45 automatic. His bullets are made for that kind of thing, and they pierce the thugs' cars and take out one driver, who crashes killing all the other killers in that car. Then he focuses on the other, while his car is getting splattered with bullets. The photos of his own bullet-ridden car were pretty frightening, but he tells me he is a highly trained sniper and finishes off the other car of bad guys. The reason these hit men came after them was to get to the drug dealer he was taking to jail, who had a multi-million dollar bounty on his head. Even if they could kill him, they'd get the money. That, he said, is what he did for Christmas. Pretty rough stuff! I asked him how he detoxifies from these horrible missions. “I don't,” he said, soberly, adding, “I'll be shoveling coal for eternity.” He said that, but I'm not sure he really meant it, because it seemed to me he knew full well he was fighting bad guys and doing good stuff. Bloody, but good. I like him. Guys like "Snake" put their lives in jeopardy to keep our world safe from gangs, drugs and guns, even if he uses guns too.
Note: Pope St. Paul VI said in a homily: "Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, Lord of the new universe, the great key hidden to human history and the part we play in it. Above all, he is the Son of man, more perfect than any man, being also the Son of God, eternal and infinite...it is Jesus Christ I preach day in and day out. His name I would see echo and reecho for all time even to the ends of the earth."
In recording true stories of men and women, all made in the image of God, I too attempt to proclaim, however feebly, the same Christ I encounter in others.