Monday, July 7, 2014

Encouraging Vulnerability

"There is much suffering in the world: physical, material, mental. The suffering of some can be blamed on the greed of others. The material and physical suffering are suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases. However, the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize  being unwanted is the worst disease  any human being can ever experience."

These words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta are well-known and there are many who would have little difficulty in agreeing. Writing in his column as a prison chaplain in the Peace Weekly, he recounts the story of a prisoner who spent his twenties in prison and after release came back for a visit.

Usually when they come back to the Center, they will meet each other with their eyes and welcome each other with a handshake. The young man had  great regret for his past life and was resolved not to hurt another person again. The chaplain gave the man some encouraging advice and asked indirectly if he was  going to church. The young man said that the church was on the opposite side of the street from  his house and did attend Mass on a few  occasions, but  stopped. In the evening, he would go for an hour long walk around the church saying the rosary.

The priest asked for the reasons he stopped going, and the answer gave him much sadness. When he went to the church, he felt so lonely he stopped going. The Catholics after Mass were  greeting each other, drinking beverages and talking, but no one ever showed  him any concern. He was like a person from another planet. Each time he decided to go to church his feet became heavy.

The young man wanted  the priest to help him enter the parish community, and if that was impossible to allow  him to come to the Center for Mass. The priest with a heavy heart refused. If he got involved everybody in the parish would know he was once a  convict released from prison. Because of the prejudice, this  would make his relationship with the community worse.  Coming to Center for Mass would make entering the  parish community more difficult.

Exchanging the greeting of peace at Mass, we extend our hands and  great each other with words of peace. The hand outstretched at this time is not only to those around us but to all those who need our help, love and kindness. We should be extending our hand of kindness, the hand of God, to all especially those with a greater need. 

Alienation from  God, the self and others are all too common. The young man of the story has a problem with the community of faith that lacks sensitivity and a full understanding of what they are doing at each Mass in which they participate. However, the young man also needs the wisdom to understand how the alienation he feels has to be faced and overcome by not retreating but in making the situation he experienced a means of growth for himself and the community to which he belongs. This expectation is difficult and demanding, but avoidance of the problem is not the answer. We as Christians need to understand how vulnerability is a great help in spiritual and human growth.      

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