July 9th 2023
Seeing with the eyes of Faith makes life richer
When I go home to Dublin, I typically concelebrate daily Mass at our local parish church. It is just a five-minute walk from my parents’ home. The priests there have always been very kind to me, and they watch over my mother and make sure she is doing well. Fr. Brendan, the pastor, was a frequent visitor to our home when my father was dying and heard his confession and brought him Holy Communion regularly. Anyway, I’m getting off the point. One morning I was concelebrating Mass with the curate Fr. Tony and during the Mass I noticed a young chap kneeling hunched over at the back of church. I say young, he was probably about twenty-two, however, during Mass this young chap hardly ever raised his head to look up. He didn’t stand for the opening of Mass, or the Gospel, or the Our Father, he just knelt in the same spot, hunched over. When it came time for the reception of Holy Communion this young chap waited until most of the people had received and as Fr. Tony gave communion to the last few people he got up and, without lifting his head, he came down the aisle. Fr. Tony, waited. When the young man got to him, he put his head close to the priests and they had a little conversation. The young man didn’t receive communion but slowly walked back to his pew at the back of the church, knelt down, and lowered his head and body in a crouched position.
I sat in the sanctuary watching all of this and thought to myself that this young chap was most likely a street person, a derelict, probably on drugs. I presumed he had asked Fr. Tony for a handout, at Mass, during Holy Communion. I then began plotting my escape. I was sure that seeing a second priest there he would be waiting at the door for me to leave so he could approach me also for a handout. I looked around the church for the nearest and most convenient escape route.
Back in the sacristy after Mass I asked Fr. Tony if he knew that young man and what did he want. He said “Oh, that is poor Michael O’Brien (name changed); he’s had a long struggle with drugs but he’s getting himself back together.” I asked him what he said when he came up for Communion? “He won’t take Communion,” the priest said, “he feels too unworthy. So, he comes up and he says, every time, Father, have pity on me, I don’t deserve Communion, please just give me your blessing, that’s enough for me.”
I thought I knew who this young man was, or more accurate, I thought I knew what this young man was. I was so completely wrong. I made rash judgments based on my own fears and prejudices and I failed to see the goodness, the piety, and even the holiness in another person because I thought they were unworthy. After all, he was just a drug addict, right! Wrong! The truth is that his sense of who Jesus is, and who is present in Holy Communion, was even greater than mine was. I should have gone back and kissed his feet.
In the Gospel today, Jesus says: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened.” I wonder, if it is true that we as His disciples are called to be Jesus’ presence in the world, do people receive this compassion from us? Do we make burdens lighter? How do we lighten the burden of those around us? Often the rash judgments, prejudices, and expectations of the people of Jesus’ own time, even His family, prevent them from seeing who He is. This blindness prevents them from experiencing what He can do in their lives and for their lives. Rash judgments can also prevent us from doing what we should do, can lead us to do nothing, or even lead us to do the wrong thing.
Our lack of vision can prevent us from seeing the real possibilities and reaching out and experiencing them. Many only saw the carpenters’ son, the son of a woman of the village, they knew his family, they thought they knew Him. I only saw what I thought I saw, I didn’t see the real person, what was really going on, who was really standing before me. Failing to see led to a lack of compassion, a rash judgement, a failed opportunity.
Sometimes we fail to see who Jesus has put in our lives because we simply are blinded by our own prejudices. We can fail to experience what God is doing because we are afraid to believe in who He is and what He can do. We are also afraid of what he might ask us to do, the sacrifices He might ask us to make. Jesus offers us more than the world can give and He says to us “come to me if you labor and are burdened. I will give you rest.” He also expects us to do the same for others.