I’m different. Any number of songs, movies, and trends affirm me in this, simply by being a member of my generation. I’m different, so are you, and that’s great.
In my case, I’m first of all a Christian, additionally Catholic, and an ordained deacon to boot. But I don’t stop there. I’ve had opportunities to encounter the poor in Mexico, Camden, Baltimore, and many places in between. Right now I’m coordinating my seminary’s involvement in Loaves & Fishes, an ecumenical organization which has delivered food and love to hungry Jesus in Baltimore every winter weekend night for the last 20 years or so.
Just in case you you aren’t getting the point, let me mention that I also got to learn Spanish, which has opened doors to encounters with all sorts of people, all of whom either noticed or were reminded that I am different. Believe it or not, these experiences even set me apart from many of my peers in seminary who haven’t been offered these opportunities, or experienced them them as intensively.
Did you ever play “Find the 12 Differences”? Going all the way back to those kindergarten games, we’re conditioned to compare and contrast — to notice differences.
…lots of differences.
As human beings, endowed with an innate sense of justice, we excel at making distinctions and pointing out the differences between ourselves and others. Sometimes this inclination is good, like when it gives rise to feelings of awe or appreciation of diverse gifts and backgrounds, or when it helps us to avoid unhealthy relationships with poor decision-makers. However, it also belies a deeper truth: human beings are all more alike than different. Remember this one?
Yes, one of these things is not like the other, but they’re all basically just bowls of birdseed.
Theologians like to throw around the word solidarity. If you and I were bowls of birdseed, the above video would be a near-perfect illustration of the concept. Solidarity means recognizing our fundamental sameness, regardless of size, shape, color, means, or capacity, and acting out of that recognition. Further, we are told, Jesus is present in each person, and especially in the poor.
Here’s the problem, though. The more I’ve offered service-to and presence-with, the more I’ve started to notice something: being with the hungry and homeless makes me uncomfortable. Even now, seasoned food-bringer that I am, I find myself wondering, “Why am I uncomfortable if I’m doing what God asks?”
JPII reminded us that Christ “fully reveals man to himself” by loving us. For me, this is the paradigm by which Christianity’s insistence that somehow “the poor = Jesus” finally made sense for the first time. The hungry make me uncomfortable because they — by their very presence — nudge me toward the realization that I’ve never really been full, either. The homeless make me uncomfortable because they challenge me to stop pretending that I live in my true home. God is the home in whom I am meant to live.
Jesus-in-the-poor reveals me to myself, and it turns out that, in reality, I’m more homeless than not; I’m more hungry than well-fed; and as St. Francis said of himself, I am what I am naked before God, nothing more, nothing less. Jesus, who became poor and is present in the poor, reveals to me that I am also existentially poor. I stand in constant utter need of handouts from God, and that makes me grateful for everything.
Sure, I have more things than some people, but from the cosmic perspective, I am far more like a homeless, hungry, and naked person than I am like God, who is eminently full, at home, and clothed with glory and power.
If you haven’t already seen it, check out this five-minute video about Colin Long, an eight-year-old boy who lives out solidarity in his relationship with his little brother, Cayden. Have some tissues handy because you’ll probably cry at some point.
Even LeBron almost, sort of thought about crying a little bit, maybe.
Who is the beneficiary of this kind of relationship? In another video, the boys’ mother says, “I know it did something inside him. I know it changed him. With the help of his brother, he’s found something that he can do.”
But, which brother is she talking about?