Fr. Paddy’s Blog

It is hard to go through a day without feeling negative towards someone who crosses our path. It could be a flippant remark passed in our direction, that we may personalise and then own, or someone walking a dog without a lead, or, if you drive, a motorist who changes lane in front of you without warning. Or it could be someone you don’t actually see, such as a commentator on the radio. The trouble is that the negative feelings can stay with us and spoil our day.

Our Christian faith offers us a way that lessens the sense of offence we feel. The Bible gives us a story of two travellers walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus. They get talking to a man on the road who talks to them inspiringly about the Holy Scriptures. In fact, the man is Jesus, someone they had known well, who is now risen from the dead. The Bible says “their eyes were held so that they did not know it was Jesus”. But elsewhere the Bible goes further than that and tells us that, without knowing it, we encounter Jesus in every person we meet. We are all “members of Christ’s body”. In the story of the King in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus passes judgement on the way we have treated other people in this life and ends by saying, “As long as you did it to one of the least of my brothers you did it to me”. The Bible is sprinkled with similar sentiments: “Whoever receives you, receives me”, “Whoever is generous to the poor, lends to the Lord”.

Jesus had the gift of loving everyone he met, even those who were implicated in his trial, and execution on the cross. “Father, forgive them”, he said as he was dying, “for they do not know what they are doing!” Elsewhere we find Jesus befriending many members of the “out groups” of the time, – lepers and others regarded as ‘unclean’ by the Jews; officials who collected taxes for the Roman occupiers; prostitutes and so on. Jesus wants to pass on to us this gift, of loving everyone we meet. This requires a change of perspective. We all know the kind of optical illusions, found easily on the internet, where an image can look like a duck or of a rabbit, depending on how you change your way of looking at the image. It can take a bit of effort. In some countries, the wearing of a headscarf by a woman can trigger a feeling of resentment or even fear, or an assumption that she is a fanatic. The next day the same woman may decide not to wear a headscarf, perhaps because she is going for an interview, and people see her as a completely different person, maybe simply as kind-looking and attractive, because their perspective has undergone a change.

Mother Teresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene. I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus”. It requires a mental effort of this kind to look for the positive in people rather than the negative. We could start by giving people the benefit of the doubt. We could see the cross woman in the shop as “the tired and fed-up Jesus”, perhaps trapped in a loveless marriage to a weak person who gambles most of the household income. Or on coming across an aggressive driver, “this is the angry Jesus” maybe because her boss has just promoted a charming but very lazy subordinate over her head. Crucially, in respect of all those who inspire negative feelings in us, we should think, “there but for the grace of God go I”. Jesus constantly told us not to count ourselves better than anyone else. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, it’s how we act them out brings consequences.

Lightening the Load

The first thing we have to do is to notice that we’ve loaded down this camel with so much baggage

We’ll never get through the desert alive, something has to go.

Then we can begin to dump the thousand things we’ve brought along until even the camel has to go and we’re walking barefoot on the desert sand.

There’s no telling what will happen then.

But I’ve heard that someone, walking in this way, has seen a burning bush. – Francis Dorff, O. Praem