Author Ronda Chervin, Ph.D., has called this "one of the best books I have ever read." Written by Felix Carroll, Loved, Lost, Found profiles 17 everyday people who discover ... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
By Marian Friedrichs (Mar 26, 2013)
A few years back during Lent I recall I was serving lunch at a soup kitchen with Andrew, one of the students in my Community Service Club. At one point, a rush of people came through the line, and we had to work fast at filling plates and preparing trays in order to keep up with the crowd. When the rush had ended, Andrew smiled, looking at the people eating their lunches at the tables, and said, "I recognize a lot of people from last time."
I just nodded, my conscience pricked by his words. I had served at this soup kitchen a few more times than he had, but I didn't recognize anyone except the old man who sold roses outside on the street. And I recognized him only because of the yellow, pink, and red blooms he carried everywhere; if he had put those down, I wouldn't have known that I had ever seen him before. I thought about St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, in which he explained that none of the good that we do has any value without love. Could I really claim to serve at this soup kitchen out of love if I was so oblivious to the preciousness of God's children here that I didn't even notice them as individuals? How could I believe I loved the soul I could not see if I didn't recognize the uniqueness of the faces I could see?
Now that our Church's celebration of Christ's Passion and Resurrection is so close, I recall that afternoon along with a small poster that hung on the bedroom wall of a friend I had in college. "If you had been the only one," the poster read, "He still would have died for you." I think those words offer us an important clue in our learning to love as Jesus loves. He loves the world without discrimination, but He also loves the individual with passionate focus. When He died on the cross, He didn't do it with a vague notion that by His death He would "help people"— a nebulous, featureless mob of unfortunates. Rather, He died thinking of each of us, seeing our faces before His eyes, caressing our names with His last breaths.
Obviously, we can't know the name and face of each person in the world as God does. But we can pray to see each person as a person: someone we are connected to as children of the same Father. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we set out to "help people" without really knowing what they need, which always starts with being seen as individuals with names, faces, and stories that belong specifically to them.
Lent is almost over, but we hope that our six weeks of prayer, fasting and almsgiving have somehow brought us closer to genuine imitation of the Lord. Jesus didn't love according to the seasons, so if we, His followers, started giving material or spiritual alms during Lent, it wouldn't make sense for us to stop now that Holy Week is here. And as we contemplate how to continue the spirit of self-sacrifice that we cultivated during Lent, maybe we need to embrace a new challenge: to pray for the ability to see the recipients of our alms as God sees them, the way a Father sees each of His children. I know that needs to be my prayer.
The spirit with which St. Faustina prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy can help us with that. She didn't always personally know the people she prayed for, but she had real concern for their souls because she knew through her prayer how cherished they were by Jesus. By grace, we can do the same. Every morning when I drive to work, I pass a makeshift memorial to the victim of a car accident. His name was Reggie. I know this because a loved one wrote his name on the white cross that marks the spot where he died. Every morning I pray part of the Chaplet for Reggie when I pass that cross, and over time he has become very real to me. I'm looking forward to meeting him in heaven. If we pray for souls, they will become real to us — whether we know their names or not — for only prayer brings us closer to loving as Jesus does: specifically and devotedly.
When we finally share in the resurrection of Christ, this connection with other souls through the love of God will become the fabric and atmosphere of heaven for us. We get a taste of it on earth when we participate in the Eucharist. This Easter Sunday, let's take a moment to look around at the faces of the people to whom we are uniting ourselves in Holy Communion, remembering that the risen Christ gazes with infinite love on each of us, never regretting a single drop of the blood that He shed in order to welcome all of His irreplaceable, unrepeatable children into the many rooms of His Father's mansion.