The greatest of the Apache chiefs lay dying, his head resting in Charlie’s lap. The two had become like brothers in life. And now, as death came to finally claim the Indian, his chest coated with red blood from that predatory bullet, the two were together as brothers for the final time.
These two men had been knitted together by the bonds of love, as two knights in a world of coyotes. And though there is much to tell of the paths they tread, fraught with the stuff of legends, what is of greatest weight is what these two brothers believed about God.
The Apache’s religion was that which had been held to by his tribe for generations, taught by self-aggrandizing medicine men. He believed in Manitou, The Great Spirit. Upon death, Indians would be ushered by Manitou into the eternal hunting grounds, for an endless age of war and the pursuit of wild game. Charlie was what many today would think of as a Christian. He professed that Jesus was the Lord, the Son of God, come to earth to rescue sinners and ascended to heaven to prepare a place for his people.
When first their bonds were forged, the Apache had explicitly refused to entertain any conversation about Charlie’s religion. But days before his final, such a conversation had indeed happened. And the Apache believed everything his brother Charlie told him, taking Charlie’s religion as his own.
This ought to bring great weeping.
For Charlie was a Catholic, and a devout one at that. Though he knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the heavenly Lord, he was mistaken about the way of salvation provided by this Jesus, and had blasphemously elevated Mary, Jesus’s own mother, to a place none but the God-Man, Christ Jesus, can hold, that place of mediator between God and man.
This is a tragedy. For an honorable, chivalrous knight of the Apaches had forsaken his pagan idolatry, having tasted genuine heavenly things. Charlie had told him glorious truths unlike anything in his false religion dedicated to a false, regional deity. But, with genuine affection for his brother, Charlie had led him astray, as he himself had been led astray.
And so the life seeped from the Indian’s lungs into the fine soil of Hickory Mountain. His eyes bore witness to the peace that reigned in his heart. With the song of Ave Maria filling his ears, a celebration of she whom the singers believed to be the Queen of Heaven, he thought himself to have been reconciled to God, and closed his eyes with finality. Let Christians who hear of this fine man cry for him, for according to the witness of God’s own Word, this Indian found himself anything but reconciled to God. Tragedy of tragedies, he had taken hold of a fake beyond compare, one dripping with the beauties of God’s specially revealed truth.
Oh, dear God. How much of your splendor can be learned of from the teachings of Catholicism. Yet, oh, how sinners have robbed it of its very life, the gospel, the message of how you truly reconciled your people to yourself by grace alone through faith alone in your Son, he who came, died, and rose again.
I am a glutton for comfort. Every week I find myself beside honorable, chivalrous Catholics who stand against the evils of abortion, at the mill itself, and pray to Mary, who hears not one of their many utterances. Have I once directly pleaded with them to renounce the falsehoods they hold to and take hold of the true gospel in faith? Have I once inconvenienced myself to implore them to be reconciled to God in the only way he has provided, the perfect, penal substitutionary sacrifice of the Son? No. Not once. As death, with sure, clammy hands, took hold of that Apache knight, so too shall he come and collect these honorable and elderly Catholics. Will he do so before I even once seek their salvation? May it not be.
As they move through their last moments, may they sing of Jesus, “My Heart is Full of Christ”, and not of Mary.
I pray God uses the tragedy of Charlie and his brother to change me into a man of better action.