It is that time of year again… the time when we gather together to remember our blessings and bestow gifts upon one another in celebration of our Savior’s birth. It’s easy to get caught up in the secular world of stress, worrying, and over-buying, but as Christians it is important that we remember the reason for the season.
I would venture to say that most of us do a pretty good job of remembering others while we prepare for our own celebrations. I know many choose names off an Angel Tree and bless a child or a family with gifts they otherwise would not receive; others donate food, toys, or clothing to homeless shelters or food banks; and yet many others donate money towards organizations who work to serve the poor and less fortunate. It warms my heart to know that most of the people I know truly wish to help others have beautiful Advent and Christmas season.
While we work to insure the poor in our communities will receive a beautiful Christmas, it is important that we don’t overlook another population in our community that may be struggling with another kind of poverty. There are many in our own churches and perhaps even in our own families who feel lost and alone. They feel unrecognized and undervalued. They feel separated from God and from those around them.
It’s Good to be Seen
I was at the store one day a couple of years ago when I noticed a woman from our parish also shopping. I have never talked with her and I don’t know her name. It’s not that I deliberately don’t know her; it’s just that she sits on the other side of the church and because I am always distracted by little ones both before and after Mass, I have never gotten the chance to know her. Because of her handicaps she doesn’t stay after Mass for very long. She interacts with very few people. I always figured she was a “loner”. Still, I recognized her and as our paths crossed I smiled and said, “Hi!”
Her face lit up and she eagerly responded “Hi!” back to me. I asked how she was and we engaged in a very brief conversation. From start to finish we spoke maybe two minutes. As we began to part ways I said to her, “It was so good to see you!” Her response caused me to pause as she replied sadly, “It’s good to be seen.”
At that moment I became painfully aware that there are many people I know who probably feel the same way. They long to be seen and yet never are. How often do we go about our days not truly seeing one another? How often do we see the same people day in and day out (or week after week in Mass) and we never stop to ask how they are doing? We think we know because we read their Facebook statuses or because we hear them talking about the things they have done, but we never engage in a meaningful conversation with them to see how they truly are.
Why is this?
Perhaps we don’t feel like we know the other good enough to engage in conversation. Maybe we are just too wrapped up in our own problems, worries, or wild children to look beyond what is happening right in front of us. Maybe we ourselves are shy and don’t want to reach out to others. Regardless of our reasons, it is important that we see those around us who are poor and starving for love. We must reach out to them in some way.
Taking care of the physical needs of the homeless or needy is relatively easy. We provide food, shelter, clothes, and any other necessity they may need to survive. We may come up against some hardships in getting everything they need, but we know that God will guide us and help us to help them.
Taking care of the spiritual needs of the poor is much harder, especially when the poor are those who sit among us in the pew at Mass, friends who text us in the middle of the day, or who share our last names.
To tend to the spiritual needs of those around us we are required to actually see that another person is struggling spiritually. We may recognize their physical struggles with hunger, lack of work, and other problems; but often it’s hard for us to truly see that they are fighting to stay connected with God or with others. It can be difficult to recognize the signs of loneliness, heartbreak, or despair, especially if we never look for it or if someone is particularly good at hiding it.
As we buy gifts for the child whose name we chose off the Angel tree, as we hand money to a man on the street with his hand extended in need, and as we offer our time and talent to volunteer by preparing meals for or taking clothes to the needy, I pray that we will also recognize another kind of poverty in the hearts, minds, and souls of those around us. I pray we will reach out to those in need and bring them closer to God.
May God open our hearts and our eyes to recognize those around us who yearn to be seen and to be loved; may He enkindle in us a desire to see others through His eyes. May we understand that poverty comes in many forms and that we are called to ease the suffering of the poor.