A dear friend recently gave me a copy of Bishop Robert Barron’s “Letter to a Suffering Church.” It is a thoughtful and candid reflection on the moment in which we find ourselves.
As I was reading the book’s uplifting final lines concerning a new rebirth for our church, a few things came to mind about how the Ccurch can heal not only itself, but also the communities it inhabits.
I think there are three things we greatly underestimate: the power of God, and his capacity to heal our hearts and communities; the power and the duty we have to participate in God’s healing work; and the beauty of our own souls and how uniquely God loves us.
A support group for those with loved ones caught in addiction’s grip often advises members to deal with those in addiction through “high boundaries, low expectations.” Too often, this is how we can approach relationship with God. In our tumultuous time of mass suffering, it can be easy to forget that “the kingdom of God is at hand,” as Jesus says in the Gospel (Mt 3:2, 4:17; Mk 1:15).
The creator of the universe, dwelling spiritually within all of us, physically present in our churches and bodies in the Eucharist, is waiting at the door of our hearts for us to welcome his grace and power. More than anything, he desires to reveal to us his deep love and grace that can transform our souls, such that we are compelled to reflect that love boldly to our neighbors.
It can be easy to put a stop to the power of God simply by thinking we are unlovable, or by thinking others are unlovable. It can be easy to look at the suffering around us and throw up our hands, feeling powerless and turning inward to what is comfortable, recognizable and certain.
The posture of invitation and welcome that releases the power of the Holy Spirit upon our sick world is vulnerable and uncertain, and requires us to be in communion with people we don’t understand. It requires us to act with tenderness toward people who hurt others. It requires us to accept the parts of ourselves that are ugly, and offer them up to God to polish away all that mars his original creation. It requires us to accept our beauty, the beauty we have not because we are special holders of all the correct answers, but because we are, like every other human being, the unique object of God’s jubilant and unconditional love.
It is only the jubilant and unconditional love of God that gives me any hope that we can be healers of such abject suffering. There is no shortage of ways individuals hurt one another, of ways communities hurt individuals, and other communities.
In our work at Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a food pantry of Catholic Social Services, I have the blessing to be overwhelmed daily by the loving hearts of the members of our community. Over the past years, our staff, volunteers and people who come for food have grown together. We try to remember names and keep track of babies and birthdays. Some of us pray together; I’ve seen the miracles. We try to keep track of illnesses and recoveries, celebrations and tragedies. Despite being separated by neighborhood, class, race, language, religion, tradition and culture, we’ve learned that we care very much about each other.
We’ve found we learn a great deal simply from working alongside and serving one another. This exchange of love, food and laughter is a cycle that gives me hope.
It’s not always easy. We learn things about one another that can be frustrating and disappointing. We can fail to communicate. Sometimes we make mistakes. But we choose to exist together. We choose to work it out together.
We try to find a spot for everybody who wants to participate in our community, whether volunteering or receiving food. A third of our volunteers are also people who come in need of food. I see people open their hearts to God each day, and I see him shining powerfully through. I hope our community can, in a small way, reveal to each other God’s outrageous love, and let loose the power of heaven in our communities.
It’s all possible. God is waiting for us.
Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Martha’s Choice can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.
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