The older I get, the more I realize there is a lot in life I just don’t understand. For instance, I initially began writing Merciful Moments blog in conjunction with our parish Lenten reading initiative, inspired by the Church of Mercy by Pope Francis. That was over three months ago and I’d like to say I’ve learned and grown in the process of reading and reflecting more deeply on Pope Francis’ words. I have many favorite the Church of Mercy quotes, but the one I keep coming back to is:
“…the mediator is one who retains nothing for himself but rather spends himself generously until he is consumed, knowing that the only gain is peace. Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls! Let us dialogue and meet one another in order to establish a culture of dialogue in the world, a culture of encounter.”
So, what’s the problem, then? Hunger. Not the “oh I wish I had a Snickers bar” kind of hunger. I’m talking about a deeper hunger that permeates one’s soul, a yearning for something, perhaps even for something yet undefined. When I went on a short trip recently, one of my goals was to spend a few hours at an art museum I’d always wanted to visit. I was hungry for something lovely, an oasis of culture and art and beauty. That dream was realized and I must say standing in the presence of paintings and works of art I’d only in the past seen in books was awe-inspiring. It is a day I will never forget! What I did not anticipate, though, were some of the people I encountered on my way to the museum and the unsettled feeling I now have, safely back home almost seven hundred miles away. And I just don’t know what to do with all that, except re-visit this in prayer/reflection.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘yes Lord you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’” (John 21:16)
I had a conversation at the train station on Tuesday with a man named Tony. When he approached me in the Great Hall, he asked me for Sixteen Dollars so he could stay at the rooming house that night. I was sitting down on a long wooden bench surrounded by people and it was broad daylight so I was feeling braver than usual. I looked up at him and asked him, “What’s your name” and we made eye contact. He said his name was Tony and I told him my name was Kristine (why so formal, I think now…was I afraid to be too familiar?) I said, “Have you eaten today?” He told me he needed the money so he would not “lose his stuff” at the rooming house, that he had reported for day labor and there was none for him that day, he “just didn’t want to lose his stuff.” He accepted a banana and a bottle of water from me and sat down next to me to eat the banana right then and there. We talked just a few more minutes. All I could give him right then was a five dollar bill which he accepted gratefully. We shook hands and I told him I wished him well. I will never know if Tony was really his name or if he was legit or not but somehow it doesn’t really matter to me. I took the time to “see him” as a person.
Okay, so in the Great Hall with lots of people around I was brave and did a tiny little good thing. Outside the train station Friday in the .9 mile walk to the art museum, I was not brave and avoided eye contact with most of the people begging on the street. I carry very little cash, always have, and I was overwhelmed with the number of “asks” and acutely aware of the fact that I just walked by many a person in need. Outside of my comfort zone, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel quite so merciful and that feeling lingers. I know I don’t have all the answers but I am capable of learning more, of doing more. Maybe that’s the essence of hunger.