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Posted at 4:09 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Remembering Reverend Gomes: His most memorable quotes

By Alexandra Petri

Monday evening marked the passing of the Reverend Peter Gomes, Harvard's Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. He was 68 years old.

I cannot pay him a tribute as adequately as those who knew him well. The reverend once addressed my high school at chapel, where he informed us that the most intimate thing one could do with another person was to eat with them. The ensuing lunch was awkward. We met in person on a few occasions - at tea in his famed house on Kirkland Street, across the table at luncheons, at tea in the library of the Signet Society, where he served for many years as president of the Signet Associates. Libraries were an atmosphere the reverend clearly found congenial -- the Bible, he noted on multiple occasions, was not a textbook, but a library.

But he was most at home behind the immense wooden lectern, from which his thunderous, widely imitated, but never surpassed, voice boomed out over the assembled throngs.

As an undergraduate, I found myself stumbling into Memorial Church in the admonitory light of a few Sunday mornings. His sermons were always bracing, delivered with a mixture of Old Testament fire and New Testament warmth. I knew the reverend as most of us knew him -- through his remarkable voice, on paper in his numerous books or echoing majestically over the pews. He was an institution within an institution.

And his remarks were often humorous and often profound. Here are a few:

  • It's not who you know. It's whom.
  • The worst that can be said about optimism is that, if we are not careful, it seduces us into looking at the bright side at the risk of failing to take reality seriously.
  • The Bible... is a library, not a textbook.
  • When they think you're crazy, it often has something to do with religion, and particularly the Christian religion.
  • One cannot undo the past, and in this particular case, one ought not to undo the past. (With regard to the Harvard Motto: Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae.)
  • Who of us would not love to have the courage to act upon our convictions as opposed to upon our fears?
  • We thirst after God because there is a thirst for God, a desire for God placed within us by God which only God can satisfy. Nothing and nobody else will do. Money won't do -- nice to have it, but it won't do. Sex won't do -- nice to have it if you can, but it won't do. Even love is lovely to have, but it won't do. Our soul is athirst for God.
  • The question should not be, "What would Jesus do?" but, rather, more dangerously, "What would Jesus have me do?" The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.
It is something that Reverend Gomes did well. He will be missed.

By Alexandra Petri  | March 1, 2011; 4:09 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  RIP  
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I'm very sorry for your loss. The Reverend sounds like a truly decent human being. I'm not sure where he is now, but he obviously lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. I'm reminded of the following words:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls..uh, I mean, for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Posted by: divtune | March 1, 2011 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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