There is much to say on this topic, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, Pope Francis is driving it home that it isn’t ok to simply isolate ourselves in a Christian Catholic Bubble, circle the wagons, and take cover. Much more is expected of us who know the gospel. In fact, we need to start, as Barbara Morgan says, and, “Evangelize YOURSELF!” And then go from there. After growing up in the Word of God Community, attending Our Lady of Elsewhere (a phrase coined by Dan Taylor to describe our parish before we had a permanent location, Christ the King, Ann Arbor), I still manage to either ignore, or not retain simple teachings of the Catholic Church. I listen to Ave Maria Radio, 990 am, daily, and try to hear as many truths as possible. I believe the saying, “You ARE who your friends are.” If I don’t become a friend of Jesus by knowing Him, by saturating my brain with Him, how in Heaven’s name can I preach the gospel?!
Despite my best efforts I have offended and caused rifts with just about every neighbor I have. Opps. But because I am tired of telling this story, and it gives me high blood pressure, instead I will tell you the story of my dearest Soul Sister, Simone, who lives with her wonderful husband, Joseph, and their six beautiful daughters in Austria, Europe.
There were a series of absolutely gorgeous days, about a month ago, in which Simone was so thankful for the fine weather that she and the kids LIVED in their ample sized yard. They had many playdates, sometimes two a day! They cooked outside, played games, jumped on the trampoline, rested, read books, and many other various activities. It was a blast. On one of the last days of this beautiful weather blitz, Simone had left over cake (if you’ve ever eaten Simone’s cake, you know what a generous offer this was:) and she decided to bring it over to her next door neighbor.
When the man answered the door her laid right into her, “I don’t know what you think this is, but my wife and I have had no peace what so ever in the last two weeks, what on earth are you doing? There must be eighteen children back there all day long! HAVE SOME RESPECT!!” And by the way, “All of the other surrounding neighbors have been talking about you all, we are counting the days until you move!” Simone was taken aback and saddened that he hadn’t come to her sooner and all she could really say was, “You know if they had a button I would most certainly push it, but as for now, would you like this cake?!” Because he had heard far and wide about Simone’s cake he accepted it with a scowl and slammed the door. She of course cried herself home, and cried all through the night, sleeping so restlessly she woke up at 1 am to sprinkle blessed salt all around the perimeter of her home, say a rosary begging Mother Mary to come to her aid, and try to continue sleeping again.
In the morning Jesus woke her up with a thought of paint brushes, so no sooner had her children woken up did she spread before them many beautiful water colors, and papers, and she went to work herself making a very large, very rich cake. Then she went outdoors to her beautiful garden and chose among the blooms the most colorful, lovely blossoms and put them into arrangements. After the cake was perfect, and the paintings had dried well, she and all 6 young ladies went to each neighbor in turn, to apologize and ask forgiveness, bringing the cake, flowers, and paintings as peace offerings. The neighbors were overwhelmed with this, and invited them in, assured Simone it was “no big deal!” And had fun trying to remember all the children’s names. It was really interesting how when she acknowledged her loud children and asked forgiveness the neighbors suddenly having put it in context, seeing their shining faces, they could accept the truth: these are beautiful very young children, how could I be bothered by them, and how can I fault their mother for letting them play outdoors in the sunshine?! Simone said there was one old man in particular was very hesitant to open the door, and just wanted to be left alone. She really had to butter him up and sweet talk him just to get him to receive the gifts. She said it’s amazing how some elderly have been LEFT ALONE for so long, they can’t even remember being reached out to, let alone gifted with anything. The little girls melted this fella’s heart, and they have continued to visit him a couple times a week, realizing the loneliness is what hardened his heart. It was a wonderful witness to me. I thank you, Simone for letting me share your story.
What can we do for our neighbor today? Who is the lonely man in your life? Is there a nursing home nearby that you can visit? How about a relative? I have had so many aha moments dealing with my family member being put in a home this year. Many people with dementia or other illnesses just need love, to help them age with grace. They aren’t hard to deal with on purpose, they simply have a lot going on in their body that they can not control, and sometimes can not explain. The neighborly love that Jesus asks us to cultivate in ourselves is a very profound sacrifice.
I have recently been reading this book, Thrift Store Saints, Meeting Jesus 25 cents at a time, By Jane Knuth http://www.loyolapress.com/thrift-store-saints.htm. Well worth the read. She hesitantly begins volunteering at the Saint Vincent de Paul Store in Kalamazoo, MI, and uncovers a wealth of transforming meetings with the poor, with her neighbors. It’s an easy, but well written read, with spiritual truths coming through in a form that is both real and challenging. I encourage you to take a look. Also,please comment with any inspiring books you have read. I would gladly try out your suggestions. The main thread that stuck out is that there are constantly folks surrounding us that could use “US!” Even if our family is doing well, and everything is running smoothly, you can bet your buttons there are people around town who are having minor crisis, or severe issues, all the way down to devastation, pending on what it is they are dealing with. I encourage you to find one thing a month extra to do, even if it’s tiny: like making a meal, that love and support that is felt from doing such a thing can actually bring you, the giver, more life and uplifting joy than the person receiving. It’s true that it s better to give than receive. Our parish, CTK Ann Arbor, has a wonderful program called Elizabeth Ministries: https://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/653753/calendar/, my friend Karen is always in need of volunteers, there is someone who could use help. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com if you want in on this. I don’t have space in my life at this time to become a Vincentian, but man oh man if I could…..I used to dream up fancy far away missions to join, probably more because real life is more difficult than nursing lepers in Papua New Guinea, and even though I am committed to stay here, I hope to go somewhere someday to serve the really poor. Like Lucius says, it’s tempting to look through the wrong end of the telescope, I need to turn it around again, and help right here, right now.