The truth is that Christians have had a very mixed response to the AIDS epidemic. Some will have a great deal on their conscience; others have forged paths of compassion and commitment that are unequaled. It's depressing to read about Mike Huckabee's Southern Baptist hostility, ignorance and fear toward people with HIV as late as 1992. It's heart-breaking to have watched the black church look the other way for two decades as so many of its members needed help, candor, and compassion. But not everyone has behaved like this. I was praying about this today and Mychal Judge came into my mind, as he sometimes does. I think history will see him as a saint at some point. If you doubt that, I recommend Netflixing "Saint of 9/11", a documentary that stays with you for a long time. And in that documentary, the part that understandably gripped me most was his early response to gay men with AIDS:
We forget how terrifying HIV was in the early and mid 1980s, how patients would be quarantined in dark rooms, abandoned by their families, with their meals rolled into their rooms on trolleys. From the beginning, Mychal did as Jesus did and walked right in and kissed these frightened souls on the lips. If they recoiled from the sight of a priest - gay men at that time saw the church as an alien, hostile entity - he would persist in silence. He would simply bring holy oils, take a chair to the bottom of their hospital beds, and massage their bony, cold, pain-racked feet. He seemed to express no anger, just a kind of suspended joy in the moment, a joy he found resuscitated by the fact of the resurrection and the intercession of Our Lady.
This is the calling of the Christian in the face of a plague: engagement, love, compassion, help. Some lived up to it; some failed. But everyone can grow.
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