I caught the film, “Argo,” on the plane. As you may know, this film, starring and directed by Ben Affleck, bagged the Best Picture at the Oscars this year. In it Affleck plays a CIA agent named Tony Mendez, and he goes on a mission to Iran to save six American citizens.
On November 4, 1979, militants captured the US Embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 of its personnel hostage. Unknown to them, six escaped from the US Embassy raid. In the film, they are hiding in the house of the Canadian ambassador, their future uncertain, but at least safe for the moment–that is, until the Iranian intelligence learns about their whereabouts.
Meanwhile, here comes Tony Mendez, a stranger who appears out of nowhere and enters their lives. And he comes bearing the crazies of ideas, a plan, he claims, that is their last hope to sneak out of the country: They’re supposed to act like members of a Hollywood movie crew doing location scouting in Iran for a fictional sci-fi movie called–you guessed it!–“Argo.” That’s why the movie poster says, “The movie was fake, but the mission was true.” The plan is to drive with Mendez to the airport and catch the first plane out of Iran, cover identities, fake passports and all.
What would you do if you were one of the six? What would you say to Mendez after he reveals his plan? Maybe like the six, you’d think: “Crazy stranger with a crazy plan!” It’s so much more tempting to stay put and stay safe in the Canadian ambassador’s house. True, they don’t know how much longer they can stay safe there, but trooping to the airport, all seven of them, pretending to be camera men, scriptwriters, and everything else they are not–that’s sure death. People around them were getting hanged in town squares just for having ANY connection to the US! In fact, they could be shot dead right there and then at the airport.
Besides, why should they trust him?
But finally, they agree with Mendez and decide to go along with his plan. What finally convinces even the most suspicious of them is the realization that just like them, Mendez is also risking his own life for this mission, for them. But, unlike them, he doesn’t have to. He has a choice. Even now he can simply walk away and leave them alone to face their own doom. The great puzzlement is that he is even here, having flown all the way to Tehran, to look for them. The only possible, conceivable motivation is a real and genuine concern for them or simply, love of country. Why else would he be willing to risk limb and life for this crazy mission?
And so, the six do as they have been told: They study their characters, rehearse their scripts, and make sure they know their back story like their life depends on it because it does. Finally, the next day, with baited breaths, they drive to the airport.
Do they make it or not? Well, you won’t get any spoiler from me; you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
But I mention “Argo” because when you think about it, the “Days with the Lord” is all about crazy strangers and crazy plans. The whole weekend is a crazy plan, and there is no crazier bunch than the staffers.* But it all makes sense because the “Days” weekend is all about meeting the Crazy Stranger with the Crazy Plan.
After all, what can be crazier than a holy man who hung out with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes? And as if that wasn’t enough, he also talked about some pretty crazy ideas. He wasn’t content with the Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you.” He asked for something crazier–the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others what you want them to do to you.” And as far as crazy is concerned “turning the other cheek” and “forgiving seventy times seven,” and “love not just your friends, but also your enemies”–all these take the cake!
And what of his crazy plan to save us? Just like Tony Mendez in “Argo,” he didn’t have to make the trip to our dangerous world, but he took the risk anyway and in fact, lost his life in his mission. And his invitation to each one of us as we live out our 4th Day is no less crazy: To follow him, to carry his cross, to die to yourself. By the standards of the world, all this makes absolutely no sense. But the best news is: The plan works. It’s gospel truth.
We’ve all met the Crazy Stranger in our own “Days with the Lord” experience. I still remember mine so vividly even if I went through my “Days” over thirty-four years ago. As it was for most of you, it was a life-changing experience. But staffing for the “Days” was something else and something more precisely because it involved doing all those crazy things for the Lord. To the Juniors here, make sure you try to staff for the “Days.” Staffing gives you a backstage pass to see firsthand how the Lord acts to touch people’s hearts and how he quietly but always makes a difference in their lives.
And we can be sure that on our 4th Day, the Stranger will be hanging around to walk with us, to guide us, even as we fail and fumble in our efforts to follow his plan. He’ll never pack up and leave. He’s already risked too much, and he loves us too much. But we need to open our eyes wider and constantly look for the Stranger.
And the secret? As we have learned in “Argo,” we need to trust him and be willing to leave our comfort zones. It’s the only way to save our lives.
* As requested, details about the “Days with the Lord” mentioned in the homily have been deleted in this blog.