In serving the neighbor, we are reminded by the Rule [Part I, 1.9] that we do not judge them, but seek instead to understand them as we would a brother or sister. This echoes Christ’s admonition that “as you judge, so will you be judged,” which he offers in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, shortly before explaining that what we ask will be given to us. These two teachings together may be a good way to think about our home visits.
What does it mean to understand somebody as we would a brother or sister? Surely, our brothers and sisters are capable of the same sort of mistakes as anybody else; sometimes they even bring their problems on themselves. We don’t judge them because we already know them deeply – we are born of the same parents; we grew up with them; we love them. Whatever sort of people they are, we know that we are the same sort of people.
When our brother asks us for bread, we won’t hand him a stone. We won’t give our sister a snake if she asks for a fish. So, when a neighbor places his needs before us, how should we receive them? We listen to them and respect their wishes, “for we are all created in God’s image. In the poor, [we] see the suffering Christ.” [Rule, Part I, 1.8]
“But I’ve heard this story a hundred times before!” we are sometimes tempted to think. Bishop Robert Barron often explains that in prayer we are not going to change God’s mind, or tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Indeed, God knows what we need before we ask him! Still, we place our needs before God in prayer. God wants us to do this; He tells us to do this.
In a similar way, our neighbors place their needs before us; they humble themselves in seeking our mercy and compassion. Unlike God, we really don’t know what they need before they ask. We only know that our neighbor, our brother, our sister, our friend is suffering, and that we have asked him to come to us.
It takes both love and humility to see not only our brothers and sisters, but Christ Himself in the neighbor. Love reminds us to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves. Humility reminds us “that all that God gives us is for others …” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] And Christ reminds us, over and over and over again, that as we give, so shall we receive.
We’ve heard it a hundred times.
How can I better open my heart to the cry of the poor?