Posted On June 26, 2024

Strangers No Longer

“You’re the spitting image of your mom!”

“I could have sworn you were twins!”

“You’re like two peas in a pod!”

How often we say (or hear) such phrases.

It has happened to me many times too; but recently this experience took an unexpected turn. While praying one day in Church, I had my gaze fixed on a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a central niche located above the tabernacle. I don’t know whether through distraction or inspiration, my gaze shifted to a stained-glass window positioned behind the altar on the upper left. The stained-glass window displayed an image of Mary, illuminated by the afternoon sun, right in my line of sight behind the statue. And I couldn’t help but notice that both artists (the one who made the statue and the one who made the stained-glass window), probably from different places and eras, had depicted both Jesus and Mary in a very similar way: long hair, head slightly bent to the left, arms outstretched, and open palms. I smiled to myself and said, “He’s the spitting image of His mom!”

When I think of Jesus, his earthly journey twenty centuries ago, it is natural for me to wonder how much of his humanity was shaped and impacted by Mary’s example. Attitudes and mannerisms, sense of humor and character traits…. I would like to look at the theme of this meditation — Jesus’ innate ability to relate to people — thinking that it also stems from Mary’s example.

The attitude with which Jesus stood before those before Him is imbued with a unique characteristic: knowledge of the inner life of those before him. Jesus, in his Divinity, knew deeply what was moving in the souls of those He encountered. He knew the desires, mixed with doubts, of Nathanael even before he approached Him; He knew the shame that the Magdalene carried within herself for her own complicated past; He understood the emotional confusion of the Samaritan woman, well before her own admission that she had had relationships with six different men. The examples are countless — it is impossible to mention them all.

But beyond these various individual encounters, there is a common thread that binds them all: when Jesus meets a stranger, that person is never truly a stranger. The Word made flesh, the second person of the Trinity, as God, has known us all along: “Lord, you have probed me you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar…. You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…. My bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth…Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down,” as Psalm 139 states.

This kind of knowledge, this divine prerogative proper to him, intersects with the human qualities Jesus inherited from Mary: attentiveness, intentionality, meekness of gaze, thoughtfulness. He was indeed “just like His mother” in going out to meet various needs, often before they were expressed, just as Mary did when she ran to help her cousin Elizabeth prepare for childbirth, or when Mary noticed the embarrassment of the bride and groom at Cana who had run out of wine.

Jesus’ gaze upon the reality around him (whether people or things) is an intelligent gaze, that is, one capable of seeing deeply, as etymology itself reveals. The word intelligence derives from the Latin adverb ‘intus’ (within) and the Latin verb ‘legere’ (to read); that is, it is the ability to read inside things, people, situations — not stopping at the surface but going inside, in depth.

Each of us can learn from Jesus how to intuit the riches and poverties of the inner life of those before us. While these are realities that dwell in the depths of the heart and mind, reflections and echoes of these realities also surface. We are given the daily privilege of grasping their magnitude, and entrusted with the task of sustaining their joys and challenges, without flinching.

I think of a category of people who well embody these abilities to “read within”: teachers. Rewinding the tape of our lives, each of us can think back to a teacher or professor who was able to see “beyond,” to intuit something about us that was perhaps hidden from ourselves. Here, Jesus, as Teacher, is the emblem of one who, by looking, sees beyond, sees what is in each person’s heart, even when He seems to ignore obvious answers to his questions. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Umm,” I would be inclined to say, “I’m blind, and you’re God; guess what I want?” It’s obvious that Jesus doesn’t ask because he ignores the answer, but because the question becomes an opportunity to establish a dialogue, to put us in touch with a deep need of which we ourselves may not be aware.

No encounter Jesus had happened by chance, as if it were an accident on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus sought out every man and woman, longed to make Himself close, to enter their lives, to get his hands dirty in their wounds and sins.

And He asks us to do the same: Jesus asks us to enter into relationship with those we cross paths with in our daily lives, be it work, school, parish, or social life. For each person we can have words of gratitude ready, to each person encountered we can pay a compliment, without letting shyness stop us.

The other day I passed a garbage collector in Rome, emptying the bin under our house. I stopped her to thank her for how clean everything around was. She smiled back at me, her face beaming, with a “thank you” that still resonates with me.

Another recent opportunity I had was to give a positive Google review of the hardware store near our home, which we have found for the past couple of years provide a wealth of practical solutions. Not only did this handyman provide me with what I lacked (clotheslines, keys to redo…), but he also resolved some problems with two of our coffee pots, and shared a few concrete suggestions on a couple of maintenance issues for our house. It took me less than two minutes to write a positive review of his work, but who knows: perhaps this small gesture awakened in him a sense of gratitude for these Sisters who occasionally show up at his store with the wackiest of questions!

Let us pause for a moment today and ask ourselves: with what posture do we step out of our doors each day? Are we oriented toward each other? Or are we busy looking down at our own shoes, lost in our own thoughts? Do we have eyes to intercept glances, requests, and smiles; or are we busy checking off all the boxes on long to-do lists? Do we stop to say thank you and give a compliment, or do we take everything for granted?

Let’s lean into encounter with a sincere “Thank you, I really appreciate it.” I’ll bet that your next “stranger” won’t remain such a stranger after all, but will remember your gratitude the next time you encounter him or her.

Suggested Concrete Resolution:

Try this little exercise every day for the next 10 days: add the phrase “I really appreciate_____” to each “thank you” you say. By simply adding intentionality and specificity to our gratitude, who knows how you will touch those hearts.

This month’s meditation is by Sr. Raffaella, AVI.

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