Diakonia: A Revolution of Tenderness
St. Teresa of Avila put it this way: 'Keep your eyes on Christ and everything becomes easier.'
I recently returned from a business trip to China. I was struck by the culture of striving and technology that exists there. In the past 40 years Beijing has grown from a city that once had oxen drawn carts in the streets, to a sleek metropolis surrounded by 7 major highway rings, an intricate and efficient subway and high speed rail system, a large, young, educated population, and every high-end consumer store you can name. And yet a deep hunger exists in the hearts of the people, young and old.
I talked to a recent college graduate struggling with the stress of trying to compete and find a job, and wondering if he would ever be able to buy a home and raise a family. He asked many deep questions -- what can one person do when faced with all the stresses and inequality in his country and the degradation he was witnessing in the environmental conditions all around him?
In another conversation, an older engineer approaching the end of his career in technology expressed his deep discouragement with the lack of attention to the needs of the people and to basic justice. He was struggling to make sense of his life. These conversations reminded me that the human heart is the same everywhere: in the West or the East, in a democracy or communism, in the well-off and educated or the frightened child refugee sitting in a detention center in Brownsville, Texas.
Here at home we wince at the deep polarization that divides us in politics, and the disappointing divisions that exist in our Church: from arguments about Church teaching and governance, to worship styles and language. We feel the tremendous weight of sinfulness in our own hearts and discouragement in our Church leadership that still struggles to fully address the abuse crisis that continues to tear at the fabric of our Church. It is so easy to become discouraged and fall into despair as we search for security, meaning and joy in a world that so often seems to push every person into a competition for survival. We are all hungry for what the world cannot give. Where can we turn? Who will feed us?
In these recent weeks we have the heard the Bread of Life discourse in our Sunday Gospels and have been reminded that only Jesus can feed our deep hungers and troubled hearts. When Jesus fed 5,000 with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, he showed us that our smallest efforts and limited gifts are enough when our eyes and hearts are focused on him. St. Teresa of Avila put it this way: "Keep your eyes on Christ and everything becomes easier."
St. Teresa moved through a similar time of discouragement, conflict, violence and despair in the world, the culture, and the Church. She was fused to Christ in her heart and soul and so she was focused outward towards others, trusting that the Spirit was leading the way. She was nourished by the Bread of Life and filled with hope and possibility. She used her personal agency and the grace of God to move forward, to love deeply, to transform the world around her and to empower others like St. John of the Cross to do the same. She and others like her in the past and today serve as models for us in our time of challenge. Christ asks us to stay focused on grace and live our lives as he taught us -- to wash the feet of the person right in front of us, to follow no one except him, to be a servant to all who are hungry in body and spirit.
Each of us is only one person, but our small actions of loving service, through the infinite grace of God, can transform lives. "We think of grace as finite" is a line from the movie "Babette's Feast" (Pope Francis' favorite movie) and a recent stage adaptation of the story that was reviewed in National Review last spring. In this story the outpouring of infinite grace through the preparation of a generous meal prepared by a single person transforms the deadened lives of the people of an entire village. Grace is not finite; it is infinite. With Christ all things are possible.
The world can catch fire and be transformed from the smallest spark that comes from our tiny moments of service and acts of kindness. By being fully present to each person we encounter, an explosion of grace radiates out and sows the seeds of the kingdom of heaven. Anger and polarizing words should not be part of our vocabulary. Fear and scapegoating of any member of our sacred human family should not reside in our hearts. With our eyes fixed on Christ we see only Christ in every person before us. This is our call today -- to not be overwhelmed by the noise that can be so deafening all around us, to move forward and heal the world and our Church one person at a time. We carry divine life within us -- a power and love that is the light and hope of the world. This is not a time to be afraid or timid. We need to keep our eyes on Christ. The Church and the world are starving for God's love. Fed by the Bread of Life, let us not keep them waiting any longer.
DEACON DAN BURNS SERVES IN THE WEYMOUTH CATHOLIC COLLABORATIVE OF ST. JEROME AND IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISHES. THIS REFLECTION IS ONE IN A SERIES ACKNOWLEDGING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTORATION OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE IN THE UNITED STATES THAT EXPLORE THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO DIAKONIA FOR THE CHURCH AND ALL DISCIPLES.
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