With all due apologies to animal rights activists, I was transfixed by an obituary I read in the New York Times for Pete Burns, 85, “a retired competitive bareback rider, bull rider and steer wrestler.” Although he grew up in Chicago, he discovered rodeo sports while attending the University of Wyoming.
After graduation he coached the men’s and women’s rodeo teams there and then founded the Burns Rodeo Company, and Mr. T., a spotted bull that Burns owned, was “considered one of the meanest bucking bulls in the history of the sport.”
In the picture the Times ran of Burns, he exuded an ecstatic joy we most often see in depictions of mystics. By all accounts he pursued his calling with a kind of passionate devotion—the “bliss” Joseph Campbell spoke of so convincingly—we too often only associate with saints, artists, and lovers. That’s probably what touched me so deeply about him: an unflinching passion for his life’s work. He seemed a man at peace and in love, traits that are not only attractive but also mysteriously infectious.
That’s probably also what makes Pope Francis so irresistible as a person. He’s no steer wrestler, but he also comes to his life and vocation with the kind of holy joy we recognize far too seldom. But I’m willing to bet we have people like Pete Burns and Pope Francis in our lives too. We’d do well to let our lives be transformed in small ways by their holy joy.
Image courtesy of PhotoXpress.com