Thirty years ago a young man named John Leary died on the Boston Common while jogging home from work. But he was not an ordinary young man.
I met him a few times at Haley House, a Catholic Worker house, in Boston where he lived and worked among the poor. A bright young man – graduate of Harvard – he was a light in many ways to the darkness around the world in the early 1980s. He had a great spirit that you could experience meeting him.
His life was grounded in an active commitment to the poor, serving them, but he also a strong advocate for life. He co-founded and worked at the Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War.
He was a member of the Ailanthus Resistance Community and was arrested for protests against nuclear weapons at a local laboratory. He also was arrested several times protesting abortion.
He was a truly consistent advocate of life.
But there is another aspect of his life which intrigues me.
John Leary began to participate in the Melkite Catholic Church and was, I presume, influenced by Eastern Christian spirituality.
He used to run on his way to and from work at a center for Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War in Cambridge). Gordon Zahn, a co-founder of the center, asked John about his running, which seemed so mundane and boring. John replied that he prayer the Jesus prayer while running. In all probability, on August 31, 1982, while running home to the Catholic Worker John died, praying the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus prayer comes from the Eastern Christian tradition, praying many times a formula based on the prayer of the publican in the Gospels: “Have mercy on me a sinner.” The most common form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I wrote a post on the prayer earlier this year here.
It is a prayer that nourishes me.
Today, remembering John Leary, I pray that like him my life may be a witness to the God of life who became poor for us, by living and working with the poor, rooted in God’s love. And may I die with the Jesus prayer on my lips.