Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All the World's a Snowglobe

"...when they could not find [Paul and Silas], they dragged...some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also..." -Acts 17:6

In 1981, a group of people came to the Missionaries of Charity Brothers' house in Rome, informing Fr. Sebastian that "they were fed up with the structured Church and so they wanted to belong to the Church of Mother Teresa." He got them to sit down, and they had what I can only imagine was a very long, very gentle chat (with God no doubt chuckling quietly in the background). And then another chat, and another; and from those chats the Lay Missionaries of Charity were born.

However adequate or inadequate their education in the Faith was, those first members understood one thng very clearly. Mother was turning India, and the world, upside down and the Church as they knew it was not: they could not even connect the two. They didn't want "coffee-and-donuts" (or rather "coffee-and-cannoli") Catholicism. They wanted to belong to the Church that was out there embracing the dying and giving love and care to the most wretched, seeking them out where they were. They wanted to be where the Church was truly alive and fulfilling her Great Commission. They wanted to be told "Go, you are sent."

Serving 'the poorest of the poor', as Mother did and the Lay MC's also strive to do, is not always nearly so dramatic. Yes, many of the Baltimore group volunteer at the AIDS hospice and yes, the need is obvious there and in the surrounding neighborhoods of East Baltimore - but often it is a far subtler need. It's in those so wrapped up in self, in their pleasures, that they simply have no room for others or for Christ. It's in the college students I work alongside - and believe you me, there are no warm fuzzies in trying to love that bunch; in trying to see Christ in them no less than in the men at Gift of Hope House. Yet their need is all the greater...because they are not even aware of it, rushing as they do from one party to the next and comparing hangovers the next day before going out to do it all over again.

In America and Europe, with our padded edges and rounded-off corners - in public life and in church - that's our most common poverty: the spiritual, not the physical. Do we recognize it in ourselves, much less in others? Do we seek Christ as Paul and Silas did, as Mother did - to preach Him, and thereby to turn our comfortable, padded world upside down?

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