In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a rash of people across the country who swore they’d seen the late Elvis Presley filling his gas tank or eating in diners. Some perhaps really imagined they’d seen him, while others just wanted to sell their story to the tabloids.
By contrast, Vincentians are called not to imagine Christ, but to see Him, and to serve Him exactly as He asked us to do. “There’s no need,” St. Vincent taught, “to represent Him to yourselves by certain mental images: it suffices for you to believe, since faith teaches you this.” [CCD X:473]
Or, as St. Augustine taught, “faith means believing what you don’t yet see, and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” [Sermon 43] The reward of our faith can be seen on every home visit. If we go to the poor ten times a day, ten times a day we will find God there! [CCD IX:199]
If we believe what we profess, if we truly “see Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ” [Rule, Part I, 2.5], we will describe our neighbor with words honor our encounter with the true embodiment of Christ.
One way to check whether our words truly express this belief, is to replace the “Christ” in “Jesus Christ” with our word. For example, “Jesus Brother”, “Jesus Neighbor”, or “Jesus Friend” not only make sense, but are comforting to say. All of these are words Christ Himself used.
By contrast, “Jesus Client”, “Jesus NIN”, or “Jesus FIN” are quite unsettling to hear! After all, the Greatest Commandment is not to “love our client as ourselves.” Jesus did not tell the disciples He no longer called them servants, but FINs. He did not ask the young lawyer, “Who was the NIN?”
Indeed, that question would have made no sense, given that the answer was not “the one in need”, but “the one who showed mercy.” To have a neighbor, you have to be a neighbor. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. To have a brother or sister, you have to be a brother or sister. Our relationship with the neighbor is mutual, respecting and promoting their dignity, and serving Christ in their persons.
Elvis has left the building, but Christ is with us always, to the end of the age. We are “serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor,” St. Vincent said, “And that is as true as that we are here.” [CCD IX:199]
This is what we believe in our hearts, and from the fullness of our hearts, our mouths speak.
Could the words I use to describe the neighbor also be used to describe Christ?