I see you


20 Jun 2018

Catholic Social Teaching implores us to uphold the dignity of all people, and this includes helping meet the needs of those who suffer poverty, oppression, hunger and injustice. We are called to meet the person and then address the need, but in our rush to help, the personal connection can become a secondary priority.

Pope Francis laid down the gauntlet in his inaugural address when he proclaimed that a Church without love flowing from a relationship with Christ, risks becoming another ‘compassionate NGO’, likening the efforts to the futility of sandcastles that are washed away. The cornerstone of service must be the one which is rejected by the builders (Mt 21:42), and our foundations must be firmly established on a bedrock of solidarity (Mt 7:24-27).

Organisations such as Orange Sky Laundry and the Vinnies Soup Van play an important role in serving the most vulnerable through their provision of services and referral to agencies, but their model of operating at the personal level sets them apart. At the 2017 Marist Youth Festival, Orange Sky Laundry co-founder Nicholas Marchesi said, ‘the most valuable piece of equipment we have in the vans are not our washing or drying machines, but the four plastic chairs that we pull out at each stop’. The chairs create a space for conversation to take place while the washing is taken care of and a dialogue of love is established with the principles of spontaneity, freedom, equality, consistency, peace and the common good.

The same can be said of the soup vans and kitchens that operate all over the country, meeting the physical needs of hunger and also quenching the thirst for connection. In a simple but profound way, the volunteers answer the cries of the heart, ‘do you love me’ and ‘do you want to know my story’ (Jean Varnier). ‘Vinnies volunteers help break through the barriers of loneliness and isolation that many living on the fringe of society suffer. Through companionship, volunteers help foster genuine communities of friends’. Indeed, charity without the warmth of love just becomes a cold exchange of goods and services.

When we hear the latest unemployment figures, it is tempting to reduce the experience of thousands of people to a mere percentage value. However, the stark reality of how unemployment affects people is much harder to gloss over. Chris describes his experience of chronic unemployment, ‘my world was full of bums, dregs, dropkicks (like me), hoons, hooligans, drugos, obscene people, disgusting people, people with sicknesses and people who look diseased. When you are unemployed, your life is very limited to only the ugliest of locations of places. Without any money, there is no purpose to be anywhere else except the Hells on earth – human rubbish bin locations for all people who are the rubbish of society. The Hell on earth is invisible to the naked eye when you are employed’.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta reminds us to seek ‘the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor’. Chris also spoke of his disconnection with friends and family, missing the beauty of relationship and to be known and loved.

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins says that ‘the Christian has the face of Christ imprinted in his heart in an indelible fashion’ and we are called to reflect His face to all those we encounter. During his ministry in Galilee, Christ didn’t assign people a number, ask them what miracle they required and tell them that one of his disciples would be with them shortly. Rather, the scriptures reveal that Jesus intimately knew those He served. We see that Jesus took the time to meet Zacchaeus, to go to his house and then attend to the needs of his heart (Luke 19:1-10).

In an interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ, Pope Francis said that he could ‘see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity’. He explained that these wounds which run deep, will not happen through clinical services, devoid of love and relationship and only addressing the superficial abrasions.

Like Sir Frances Drake, we ask the Lord to disturb us ‘to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show Your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars’. That we can break down the invisible boundaries of loneliness and practise the Zulu greeting of ‘Sawubona’ which means ‘I see you’. In this context, it has the deeper meaning of seeing a person’s core—their humanity, their dignity—and according them that respect.

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