I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Growing in God's Mercy

I had the opportunity to help lead a retreat this weekend for the young adult community at my church. Our focus was mercy. I learned quite a bit from reflecting on my own experience of mercy and in spending time in small group discussion with others too. I had the chance to share my reflections through a witness talk this morning. Here's the transcript of what I said (though, I did not read it word for word):

‘A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: “You are my hands.”’ (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/you-are-my-hands?lang=eng)

Doesn’t this story remind you of St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Jesus is the “face of God’s mercy” - this is literally the first line of Pope Francis’s bull of indiction for the Year of Mercy. Therefore, if we truly believe we are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the body of Jesus, we become Jesus for others, thereby becoming the face of God’s mercy too.

We’ve spent a great deal of time this weekend listening to and reflecting on witness of mercy on a personal level with people we know. Today, as we prepare to end our retreat, it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture - at our universal call as Christians to be merciful to everyone, including those whom we do not know or those in our lives who we tend to take less time or effort thinking about, maybe even avoid. The woman begging on the street needs mercy from us just as much as someone in our family who has hurt us. The man who is hospitalized for surgery needs mercy from us just as much as a friend who has lost our trust.

As I was preparing for this talk, I was running my, at the time, jumbled thoughts by my sister, and she noticed I was mainly trying to focus on two main types of opportunities for mercy, those which she dubbed “scheduled” and others that she dubbed “spontaneous.” I find it helpful to put a name to things, so I’m going to go with it - her names are pretty accurate. So, first, let’s take a look at the idea of “scheduled” opportunities for mercy.

Scheduled. As in planned. As in added to my Google calendar. (Whatever did we do before Google?) We are so blessed at St. Clement and in the city of Chicago to have a multitude of opportunities for serving others and living out the corporal works of mercy on a regular basis - OLA Mission, food and clothing drives, preparing sack lunches or Lincoln Park Community Shelter dinners, handing out Chicago Shares vouchers - all of these are ways we are able to schedule mercy into our lives.

When I came to Chicago back in the fall of 2011, I took a job as a Catholic elementary school teacher, and I was happy where I was. But I felt like there was something missing. One Sunday morning I found myself at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (mostly because the 8 a.m. Mass was super convenient, both in getting my Mass obligation done for the day and in it only being a two minute walk down the alley from my apartment), and I noticed in the bulletin an ad about ministry of care trainings going on through Holy Name Cathedral. I can’t explain exactly how I felt, but it was that tug at the heart (you guys know what I’m talking about), where it just seemed like the right thing to do. Pretty soon (after some intense training), I found myself at NWMH on Saturdays twice a month. I loved it. The patients were incredible, but I rarely saw any of them again (due to the fact of their being in and out of the hospital or on different floors). Some of my interactions and conversations, though, have stuck with me - God is so good, and He blessed and guided our conversations, giving me the “right” words to say or the comfort in silence when words were not needed.

One time, I entered into a room noted in my assignments, and I went through my spiel: “Hello, my name is Kelly Foyle. I’m a minister of care from Holy Name Cathedral. I go to church at St. Clement, and I teach at Immaculate Conception St. Joseph. Are you interested in receiving holy communion today?” I was somewhat surprised when the patient’s daughter said, “Oh, you go to St. Clement? We’re parishioners at St. Clement. Fr. Ken was just here yesterday.” (Great, I got to follow up to Fr. Ken.) We got to talking for a bit, sharing this and that, talking about the parish and so forth. As I got ready to leave, the woman stopped me and said, “You know, you just exude St. Clement.” And that made me stop and think, “Wow, this woman just had an experience of Church and God’s mercy through me.” That’s quite a responsibility we all have, if you stop to think about it… Pope Francis pointed this out in his bull of indiction: “(The Year of Mercy) was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.” Clearly, each of us are the Church, and our actions contribute to the witness of the Church.

Scheduled mercy - yes, we need those times. But, not everything in life can be scheduled - that’s one of the most incredible things about our day to day living. We can’t always know what to expect or who we will meet or where opportunities for mercy may lie. It is for these precise moments that we have our second type of mercy opportunity: “spontaneous.”

I am very much a creature of habit. I tend to get up at the same time, do my morning routine in the same way, drive the same route to and from work, go to my weekly evening commitments. It’s easy to get caught up in monotony - doing the same things, seeing the same people… Every once in awhile, though, I break out and do something crazy, like go to the Chicago YCP Mass and welcome reception on a stormy Tuesday night in February. I don’t get downtown much, but people I know who do often speak of seeing so much begging and hunger on the streets. It wasn’t surprising, then, that on my way to the meeting, multiple people I passed asked me for money. I didn’t do anything to help them. However, when a man approached me, my sister, and another friend as we were going in to grab some dinner after the event, I couldn’t help but think God was giving me another chance to extend His mercy to someone who needed it that day. “Can you help me get some food?” Without even thinking, I asked, “Do you want to eat in here?” (gesturing to Naf Naf Grill - our dinner location of choice) to which he nodded his head. We walked in together. I introduced myself and asked his name. It was Jarrell. I told him to order whatever he wanted, so he got a rice bowl with extra chicken and a pita. He asked where I was from, if I was married (and was surprised when I told him I wasn’t), and he asked about my job. I paid for his meal and mine, and I sat down with Marisa and Kelsey. Jarrell didn’t sit with us - he took his meal to go, but not without first saying thank you. I shook his hand and thanked him too.

It was all very spontaneous - I hadn’t planned to help this man (who I will probably never see again but who I think about all the time now - I’m not sure why, except for the fact that our interaction was more than a simple transaction). I felt like I had to do something. It was honestly like Jesus was standing there saying, “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me” (Mt 25). I just couldn’t say no that time, even though I had done so many times earlier that very same day. God surely works in mysterious ways. For those of you who are interested in reading about a saint’s “spontaneous” opportunity of mercy, refer to the website for St. Martin of Tours - his short, simple story about sharing his coat with a beggar is incredibly powerful - I just don’t have time to share it here.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the suffering and need for mercy we see in the world today. But we can each start with one person at a time, that’s what God asks of us. There’s a great quote by Mother Teresa - it’s in your folder. If I look at the mass of people I will never act. If I look at the one, I will...Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.”

I want to close this morning with another short story (can you tell I’m a teacher? - we love a good story). It’s called “I had lunch with God” (from I Had Lunch with God)
We too can be the visible face of God’s mercy in the world. Amen to that.

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