Have you ever been in an airport, or a grocery store, and run into an acquaintance that you only know from work, a club, or church, and it took you an extra moment even to recognize them? After all, not only are the surroundings unfamiliar, but your friend may also be dressed in “dad shorts” instead of business casual. Our circumstances affect what we see; there is no way around that. It’s human nature.
As Vincentians, we are called to see the face of Christ in the neighbors we serve.[Manual, p.51] This should be easy – we know His face well! We regularly see Him at church. He is there upon the crucifix at the altar; there, in the Stations of the Cross that line the walls; there in the many beautiful paintings and icons. We also are used to seeing His suffering, but we see it through “hope-tainted eyes,” knowing that his suffering leads to our salvation; knowing He still lives.
So, when we emerge from Mass, when we are no longer in that familiar place, will we easily recognize Him? Or might it take an extra moment?
On our home visits, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are serving Christ, because like that acquaintance in the grocery store, we are seeing Him outside of the familiar surroundings where we think that we know Him best. As devoted as we are to seeing His face, it can take an extra minute to recognize Him wearing different clothes, and behind a different face than the one we see in church.
St. Vincent often reminded his followers that Jesus chose to live a life of radical poverty. He was not on earth as a king, but as a carpenter. It may make it easier to recognize Him when we remember that Christ came to us in fully human form and experienced a fully human life. We know that he became angry; we know he got exasperated; we know he got discouraged; we know he was afraid; and we know that Jesus wept.
In Redemptor Hominis, Pope Saint John Paul II explained that Christ incarnate “fully reveals man to himself.” He reveals to us the human dimension of Redemption, and it is that which we are called to recognize in the neighbor; looking beyond appearances, beyond surroundings, and beyond emotions to find “the greatness, dignity, and value that belong to his humanity.”
It may not have been home visits Christ was talking about when He said to “knock and the door will be opened…” but maybe remembering those words while standing on the doorstep on our next visit will help to remind us who we are there to see.
In faces of impatience, sadness, anger, or fear, have I sometimes failed to recognize Christ?
The Spirituality of the Home Visit (read it and use it!)