We are called to see the face of Christ in those we serve. In imagining His face, it is easy to imagine the peaceful face portrayed in so many great works of art over the years, or the glorified Christ, or even Christ crucified on a clean cross at the front of our churches.
Which Christ, then, are we called to see? Christ, our Lord, risen in glory? Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter? Jesus the condemned, bloodied, and humiliated? For St. Vincent, the great lesson of the incarnation was that “Since Christ willed to be born poor … he made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty.” [Manual, 54] Through Vincent’s vision, we are called to see the carpenter, the unemployed, the single mom – all those neighbors who so regularly call our Conferences for help. He is there.
Blessed Frédéric’s vision reminds us that in the poor before us “we can put finger and hand in their wounds and the scars of the crown of thorns are visible on their foreheads…and we should fall at their feet and say with the Apostle, ‘Tu est Dominus et Deus meus.’” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837] We serve Him, and we also share in His suffering.
Who is Frédéric’s Jesus in our neighborhoods today? In whom can we see Christ’s scars? Who is wrapped in tattered clothing, wounded, unwashed; who sleeps in the cold, and on the street? From whom is it sometimes easier to turn away?
Do we “[speak] about them with euphemisms and with apparent tolerance”? Do we “look at those who suffer without touching them”? [Fratelli Tutti, 76] Do we offer them our prayers but not our hearts, wishing them to go in peace, but not providing for their needs? Are we sometimes paralyzed into inaction not by lack of charity, but by the fear that their needs are too great for our efforts?
As he walked towards Golgotha, Jesus stumbled under the weight of His cross. Veronica stepped forth, offered Him a cloth with which He wiped away the blood, sweat, and tears, and then continued on His way. Should she have held back, knowing she could not save Him from the cross?
There is not a Jesus of Frédéric or of Vincent. There is only one, and if we seek to see and to serve Him, we must remember that our smiles, kind words, handshakes, consolations, and prayers [O’Meara, 177] are not an extra thing for the neighbor without electricity, they are the most important thing we offer – especially to the neighbors who have nothing.
Do I believe in my heart that my friendship, prayers, and love are enough?