I feel guilty each time I drive through an intersection and see someone with a cardboard sign asking for help. I rarely carry cash. While I know that my small token of money will not change that person’s life, I wonder if maybe I should do more.
Who are we being called to love? Is it just your family members? Is it only the folks that share our common values? Is it the people who are easy to love? If I love like Christ, then I know that I am being called to love those that are easy to love as well as those who are not. Thank goodness for that. I need to remember that I am not always an easy person to love.
As I drive through the intersection, I make eye contact. It seems like a little thing, but I realize that I have trouble looking at them because I feel guilty. I try to acknowledge their presence as a fellow human being. And silently, I ask God, who is all powerful, to give them what they need. In accepting that I am powerless over that person and that I cannot read their soul or know their needs. I can pray for them. And I can try to see them as Christ does.
I am learning that when we don’t see others, it is an act of dehumanizing them. To see someone is to offer connection; you are worthy of my attention even if it makes me uncomfortable.
I often wonder if Saint Teresa of Calcutta used Imaginative contemplation. One quote in particular notes how she uses her imagination when she reads scripture: “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” No sermon ever preached has taught me more about loving like Christ than the life lived by this tiny Albanian woman.
Her words, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” carried weight because she lived out that gospel every day.
So inspired by her love in action, I converted to Catholicism over 20 years ago. I wanted the kind of love for Jesus that she possessed. I imagine that she took the words of Jesus Sermon on the Mount to heart as it provided the philosophy behind the care given at her Home for the Dying.
Her words: “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta, Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely, right where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in homes and in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see.”
Still, I didn’t know where my Calcutta was until 13 years ago, when we learned of an adult child’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. I started attending a 12-step program for those affected by the addictions of others. At that first meeting, they took me in. They didn’t know anything about me except my first name. They fed my frightened soul with love and acceptance. As I told them what I was ashamed to tell others they held my hands and offered a steady and loving gaze and shared their personal stories with me.
When I started to gather myself together from the strength that they offered me, I became the listening ear to the newcomer in the meeting. I tried to see that newcomer in the same way that they welcomed me. I realized that I didn’t have to fix anyone’s situation. I only had to love them.
Before I knew it, I started seeing from a place of love rather than a place of fear. Because they loved me no matter what, I started to accept myself. This self-acceptance helped me to see my adult son beyond his disease. They taught me to love him right where he was until he could love himself and make the changes that he needed to make. Learning to love like Christ is where my power for change lies.
Thomas Merton had a mystical experience later in his life. He was walking in downtown Louisville Kentucky when he realized that he was walking amongst his brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ll leave a quote from that experience with you. I hope that the next time you see a stranger, you will take these words in and let God use them in you.
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.”
My favorite book about Mother Teresa
Greg Boyle, SJ’s Tattoos on the Heart is another good example of loving like Christ
A Deeper look at Imaginative Contemplation with Jim Manney and Father James Martin
History tells us that Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous used Matthew 5,6 &7 and the book of James as the foundational philosophy for the 12-steps that are used around the world today. Emmett Fox’s Sermon on the Mount is read and studied as a part of many 12-steppers program work today.
Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash