By Ricardo J. Márquez, PhD
“Do you want to listen to my story?” a woman screamed in the parking lot of a bank.
A woman getting ready to use the ATM responded rapidly, “No, I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time to listen to your story.”
Others nearby, me among them, quickened our pace to avoid the woman’s question, as if wanting to drown her voice with the distance.
I asked myself, why are we uncomfortable in the presence of a beggar and her screams? Why is it a natural reaction to turn away to avoid the gaze of such an individual?
Perhaps the indigent woman screams in the street what her body and soul need. After having experienced pain, rejection and abandonment, she doesn’t have anything left to feign; her wounds and her grime are visible and, from the abyss, she finds the freedom and strength to scream at her Lord and those made in His likeness about what she’s searching for, what she needs.
What does this have to do with me?
When we walk under the sun, our shadows follow us. That’s a good metaphor to understand that all of us have shadows in our life, those parts that we ourselves don’t recognize, that we conceal because of shame or because we don’t want to see them.
My fears, my insecurities, my traumas — all of them are part of my shadows. We learn not to speak about them, to avoid them, because they connect us to pain. Perhaps the beggar reminds us of them, and we react, unconsciously, and turn away.
I don’t make the time to sit down and listen attentively, compassionately to my own story, and neither do I make the time to listen to others’ stories.
Pope Francis uses the image of the Church these days as a “field hospital”:
“How much poverty and solitude we see in today’s world, unfortunately! How many people live in conditions of great suffering and ask the Church to be a sign of the Lord’s goodness, solidarity and mercy. This is a task, in particular, for those who have the responsibility of pastoral ministry. They are required to recognize and interpret these signs of the times in order to offer a wise and generous response,” said Pope Francis during an audience in September of 2014.
The invitation is to be a sign, a gesture of compassion, tenderness and love that serves at least as first aid to the wounded, as Fermín Negre, a leading priest and musician from Spain, tells us:
“Serve in the concrete: Listen without a watch to the person who is alone, casting aside well-worn assumptions. Miss your favorite program to take a walk with that wounded person. Leave on the store shelves those things that you don’t need and share items with someone who struggles to make ends meet by the end of the week. Help a senior citizen tie his shoelaces before he trips.
“Bring your faith down from the heavens, and land it with words and actions, sharing who you are, honestly.
“All you have to do is pay attention, open your eyes and discover that everything is an opportunity to love and to serve in concrete, small ways, unperceived, discreetly. And find in that concrete expression of love the meaning of life.”
We’re called to heal the wounded. It’s not our merits, nor external achievements that make us efficient in this service; it’s being open to the grace of God that proclaims in our interior, to the Spirit that inspires us. All we have to do is let go, allowing ourselves to be moved by this force that leads us to recognize in the “other” our own image, the image of creation in each one of us, God’s footprint in everything.
If I am aware of my shadow and my wounds, I can recognize them in the other, in the person who is screaming on the street. If I’m conscious of the love that energizes me, accepts me, and forgives me, I will be willing to listen to you. And, listening to you, we both will be healed, and the light and fraternity of the Kingdom will have claimed new space.
Ricardo J. Márquez, PhD, is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.