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Meeting Jesus in our neighbors

How we live the works of mercy
 

Each year, beginning in early September and continuing through mid-October, I engage in a ritual that has been one of my personal favorites as a pastor. In fact, as each year passes, I look forward to it just a little bit more. What is this ritual? Why, it’s the annual interviewing of candidates for the sacrament of confirmation. What’s that, you say? You’d sooner wish to have major surgery than sit with a teen for the 15 minutes of their interview? Perhaps, but I continue to find my interviews with our confirmation candidates to be enlightening and encouraging. They inspire me with their honesty, energy and creativity – especially when it comes to the many ways they seek to be of service within their families, their parish, and the larger civic community.

One group of young people has struck up a friendship with a senior woman. She happens to be the neighbor of one the young men. He, with his friends, noticed that caring for their home had become increasingly difficult for the woman and her husband, who has since died. The young men, without a second thought, continue to take on a variety of projects – including cleaning garden beds in the spring, caring for the pool during the summer, and shoveling the drive and walks during the winter. No one had to ask or tell them to do it – they simply did it because it was, as one of them shared with me, “the right thing to do.” In their care for their neighbor, they meet Jesus, and in graciously accepting their helping hands, the woman, now widowed, meets Jesus, too.

Another group of young people decided they would like to help our parish food pantry. In one weekend, they collected nearly 1,000 pounds of canned goods and other non-perishable items by going door-to-door in their own neighborhoods. They delivered the food to the pantry on a Sunday afternoon. By Monday, it was bagged and ready for distribution. By Wednesday of that same week, what they had collected was given away – at a time when, unbeknownst to the young workers, I was wondering how we were going to refill the pantry in order to meet the needs of the coming week. In providing food for the hungry, Jesus is met, and through the kindness of strangers, the hungry who come to our door meet Jesus.

The creativity and energy of these young people astounds me, as does their love of God and their concern for neighbor. In sharing their insights with me, they seem to know instinctively that when they engage in the corporal or spiritual works of mercy they will, in some way, meet Jesus face-to-face. They constantly teach me that taking the risk to use the gifts that God gives us – in whatever form those gifts may take – to meet Jesus’ needs in our own time is a profound opportunity to grow in faith and an often humbling way in which to meet the Lord.

Daily we encounter multiple opportunities to meet Jesus in the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the hurting and the imprisoned. So, too, we meet Jesus when we encounter the sinner, those who seek knowledge or counsel, those who sorrow, and in our care and prayers for those who have died. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy will be our guides for the year ahead – a year that will be filled with God’s grace and untold, unanticipated blessings. And so our journey in FAITH continues.