by Steve Héroux.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine said that if Christ were not in me, it would not be worth his while loving me. What an interesting comment to offer a friend!
Of course one could hear this in a number of different ways. I suppose I could have answered with "thank you very much," or entered into some sort of theological discussion about it all. But when it comes to being loved, somehow theological discussions don’t seem to cut it.
I couldn’t help but think that something very precious was lacking in his outlook, and I was deeply saddened. My gut reaction was: "Please do not make of me an object of your love for Jesus."
Of course, it is likely that I misinterpreted his intentions and misunderstood what he was trying to say.
Nonetheless, making someone into an object of our love for God is not something impossible to do. And it is likely not much better than making an object out of a person for any other reason. Something very sad indeed.
I heard it said that here at the Marian Centre, we give people an opportunity to touch the poor and that that is a good thing to do! I must admit that I struggle with this as well, possibly for the same reasons.
I would not like to be a poor person going somewhere to give someone else a chance to touch me or serve me in order that he or she might get something out of it, out of me. Even if that something were noble feelings or a broadening of horizons or of the heart, or even perhaps conversion of heart—or worst of all—a good conscience.
I would feel like someone was taking advantage of my situation for their own "noble" gain. I simply want to be seen and treated as… well… me!
How do we objectify the poor? And who is the poor one anyway? Or rather, who is not poor?
The Lord did tell us in plain words that whatsoever we do to the least, we do unto Him. There is then something very real and profound, something sacred, in the oneness of Christ with each person. He also begged us—commanded us—to love one another as he has loved us. Period. No theological argument attached. Just the simple words of God.
In Edmonton, some people think that at the Marian Centre, the poor are our focus, the reason why each one of us is here. Yet, from living our life here, we deeply discover, experience, and know that there is much more to this place than our service to "the poor."
Perhaps Marian Centre is about the Lord serving all of us poor ones together—gathering all of us, his little ones, under the mantle of his Mother’s care, whether we be staff, volunteer, street person, benefactor, or whoever.
We have all sensed the grace present and at work in this house of Our Lady, she who is the "Refuge of Sinners" and "Comfort of the Afflicted."
We all gather here with our burden of afflictions, crying out to God who hears our sorrows and our joys.
There is great joy in serving and being little together, in discovering that love grows in our hearts and in our midst. There is much joy in the simplicity of knowing someone by name and in being happy to see them.
Our focus is that we may love one another. It’s that simple. Al is the one to whom I serve a bowl of soup. I like Al for some reason. Julie is the one whose beautiful yet wounded face is before me.
Chuck is the one with whom I work. Sam is the one shaking my hand right now; Zoyla, the one showing me how to carve the Easter candle; Sandy, the one telling me about her day.
Each of them is a unique human face, a unique human person. It is true enough—to state the obvious—that some people are easier to love than others… But what if my kindness extends only to the easy ones?
The mystery of Christ in us and the love we owe each other usher us onto holy ground, beckoning our silence, prayer, and humility.
How humbly do I approach you? How humbly do I listen to you? How genuinely do I shake your hand?
We would be greatly concerned if Marian Centre looked and acted simply like a hand-out place with little time for contact or concern for the person.
One day, one of the men who come to our clothing room regularly, missed his turn. This could possibly mean less clothing available for him later on. When I realized that he was late and tried to urge him on, he told me that chatting with one of our volunteers was more important to him than getting clothes. Two brothers had met face to face.
It is a great joy to see and sense this happening in our midst as we take each person into our hearts, growing in love for each one in our own particular way.
We see something of wonder happen in our daily lives—namely, "restoring" to the "faceless one" his human face.
This seemingly daunting task often happens in a flash, a flash of grace, through a look of compassion, of joy. A simple look. A genuine look.
It can happen while we are giving someone—or refusing someone—a pair of socks, while pouring a glass of juice for a brother or a sister, while carving an Easter candle with a friend. It can even happen while we are asking someone to leave!
Whatever it might be, it seems to happen through small gestures. The Kingdom of God is like the smallest of all seeds…
I think of Veronica wiping the face of Christ on his way to Calvary. One short encounter amidst a long litany of sorrows.
What compassion passed through her hands as she touched his wounded face? What encounter of grace took place as she uncovered his human face? What comfort or hope did her hands and her eyes bring to Jesus?
Marian Centre is a bit like Veronica was for Jesus for those who pass through our door on their Via Dolorosa. Our life is about a mystery that cannot be qualified or quantified—the face of Him who suffers in and with each one of us. What beauty lies therein! What treasure! What joy freely given!
In this corner of the inner city, where there is so much sorrow and oppression, may light, joy and grace abide with us, and may Jesus Christ find in this home a resting place.
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