As Christians we are taught that each and every person has value and worth. We are called to see Christ in the faces of every person we encounter. We know that all men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. We also know that Christ calls us to uphold the dignity of all human life and to extend his mercy and love to each and every person we come in contact with. So why is it so difficult for us to do this sometimes? Why is it that we often judge some worthy of dignity and others worthy of our condemnation?
The Church is supposed to be a safe place. After all, Christ’s grace and mercy flows from her and helps to heal us and to lead us to Christ. But the Church isn’t just a building. The Church is a living and breathing sacrament. The Church is the people who proclaim Christ as their Savior and who say they will pick up their crosses and follow him. As such, Christ lives through the people and his mercy and love should flow through the hands and the hearts of those who say they are Christ’s own. But sometimes instead of mercy and love we find condemnation and judgment instead. Where have we gone wrong?
It hurts when you find judgment and condemnation through the people of the Church who are supposed to extend Christ’s love and mercy. Recently I was at the receiving end of this type of behavior. Our parish has a frozen food ministry for people who may need a little extra help to provide for their family. Given the size of our family and the money my husband makes, we have always participated in the program. It can be difficult to humble myself to not only admit we need such help, but to accept it as well. However, it not only helps our family but two other elderly families with whom I share our food. I have always been grateful for the help and have always insisted that if there is not enough food for others that the food designated for my own family should be distributed to those with greater need than my own.
This past week I found out that people had been talking about my family and had decided that perhaps we were not “worthy” of the food that we receive. Because we supposedly do “many things” and I share with my friends on Facebook, it was judged that we are not needy enough; that perhaps we were taking advantage of the program. It hurt to think that someone would believe that I would take advantage of anyone or anything. It also hurts to think that people judge us based on what they think they know about us. Instead they choose to believe the worst about me.
I wish I could say this was the first time I have ever felt this way but it’s not. Months ago I stopped receiving food because each time I went I would walk away feeling like a second-class citizen. It hurt to be looked down upon and to hear people whispering judgments about the people there to receive food. It took a great deal of humility to accept the help once again.
Not everyone there was this way though. Some of the people serving those in need are some of the most giving and loving people I have ever known. Christ’s love flows from their hearts and their hands and it is evident that they find true joy in serving Christ by serving his people. It was these people who helped me to come back each month. It was in their smiles that I could feel Christ present among us. I was thankful for them as they gave me hope.
Want to know a secret? We are very blessed with people who love our family. We have angels living among us who make sure our family has what we need. People think of us when they are emptying their closets, getting rid of furniture, or have extra food items. They understand how difficult it can be to raise a large family on a police officer’s salary. And while we are continuing to do things to better our situation, like going to school and Mike changing jobs, we still struggle at times.
One amazing friend, who to be honest is like a mama to me, buys my children clothes at Christmas and Easter each year making sure she remembers every single one of them. She not only covers my children in clothes but covers our family in prayer as well. I have a wonderful mother-in-law who always made sure we could go on vacation with the kids. We have Godparents who buy their God children “experiences” instead of toys and I have used the refunds from our taxes or my student loans to buy zoo passes, museum passes, or trips to the aquarium to encourage my children’s learning and to allow them a little bit of fun too. But most people don’t know these things about our family and to be honest, I shouldn’t have to put it out there. It is both humbling and embarrassing to feel I have to do so.
It is easy to judge others based on what we think we know. It’s easy to fill in the blanks when we don’t know the entire story. It’s easy to look at someone and think we can see who they truly are simply based on what is before us. But more often than not, we are wrong.
Friends, we are the hands and feet of Christ on earth. It is through us that Christ’s work is done. He tells us that whatever we do for the least of his brothers, we do to him. But the opposite is true as well. When we judge, when we condemn, when we gossip, when we treat others poorly we also do these things to Christ. When we look at others and decide their worth based on what we think we know, well, we decide Christ’s worth as well.
We are called to be deliverers of mercy and love. St. Therese of Lisieux said,
“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
We can do many things for others but they mean nothing if they are not done with love and mercy. If our hands are helping while our hearts are judging, we don’t truly do God’s work.
The Church is supposed to be a place where people experience Christ’s love, hope, and mercy. He works through us to bring these gifts to his people. And we, his people, are called to see him in each and every person we minister to. St. John Chrysostom said that if we don’t find Christ in the beggar at the Church door we certainly won’t find him in the Chalice either.
As I have contemplated this for the last several days I have prayed that God would not only tell me what he felt I needed to do in regards to this situation, but that he would help me forgive those who judge and condemn. Thankfully forgiveness is a virtue that I readily embrace as I know that there are many sins for which I too need to be forgiven and would hate to be denied that gift. I forgive those who have judged me and who may even continue to judge me.
I feel like God is calling me to not only talk to others about what true service and mercy is, but to engage in it as well within this ministry. There needs to be people who understand what those seeking help are going through and what it feels like to have to humble yourself to ask for help. Where I may not understand all of their situations, I can relate to those who come before the Church in search of mercy. I think that God calls us each to use our personal experiences to draw others to him… to show his mercy and love to those who are hurting and those who have been made to feel unworthy.
My challenge to you today is to evaluate why you do the things you do, especially if you are trying to bring Christ to others. Do you see Christ in everyone you serve? Do you extend true mercy and love or do you perhaps judge and condemn instead? If Christ was beside you, would you say and do the same things you do now? What would you change and why?
“Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” Pope Benedict XVI
Lord, use me to bring your hope, your love, and your mercy to those who are hurting and in need. Amen.