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How Did You Experience Jesus Today?

By Kathy Coffey

Each day we experience the kindness of Christ as it filters through the charity and goodness of others. From the Catholic family magazine St. Anthony Messenger.

Q U I C K S C A N

When I Was Hungry, You Gave Me Food
When I Was Thirsty, You Gave Me Drink
When I Was a Stranger, You Took Me Into Your Home
When I Was Naked, You Clothed Me
When I Was Sick, You Came to My Help
When I Was in Prison, You Visited Me
Following Christís Example

The New Mysteries of the Rosary

Illustration by
Carolina Arentsen


Since when...
        Are the first line and last line of any poem                   Where the poem begins and ends?
                                            —Seamus Heaney

Like the poem to which the famous Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney refers, the life of Jesus does not begin and end with the first and last line of the Gospels. Not bound now by physical limitations, he continues to live among us in varied and vivid ways. How do we experience Jesus today?

While he still surprises, our faith tells us that Jesus continues doing through human beings what he did in his earthly life. He thought these actions important enough to have a key place in Matthewís account of the final judgment: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ĎCome, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited meí” (25:34-36).

We are so accustomed to thinking of these directives as things that we should do that we rarely think of the other side of the coin: how weíve been the recipients.

Most folks would agree itís harder to be on the receiving end, easier to do the feeding, clothing and welcoming ourselves. But only people who have actually been hungry or thirsty know how to give food and drink reverently. Only those who have been desperately sick or lonely can appreciate the welcome touch or the reassuring sound of a visitorís voice.

We cannot do unto others what we have not first experienced ourselves. If we have no experiential base for these kindnesses, how will we recognize our opportunities to do them? If we are preoccupied with our own pain, it is difficult to reach out to anyone. So it is helpful to reflect on how Christ has come through the people who have done us these kindnesses.

Turn the “you” of the Gospel passage around, thinking of “you” as Jesus, not ourselves. After each personal remembrance comes a question. This is how it happened in the authorís life, but how has it happened in yours? How has Jesus served your needs through another person? The unwritten answer to that question thus becomes the most crucial part of this reflection.

When I Was Hungry, You Gave Me Food

Being the cook most of the time makes me especially grateful for othersí cooking. Many years ago a friend from college met my flight at the Orange County Airport, drove to Laguna Beach and produced a cooler to celebrate a birthday, including chocolate-dipped strawberries! The mother of five children, she has honed her knack for finding the perfect food to fit the feast.

A kind host once made me breakfast, simply because he knew I did it so often for others. I ate my cereal and drank my coffee like royalty that day.

Most memorable meals nourish the spirit as well as the body. At Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthday banquets, the stories that circulate the table are just as important as the dishes passed around it. We cherish times when “food for the journey” came in two ways: We left the table strengthened not only by calories, but also by conversation.

Beauty, too, can feed the spirit. When we are exhausted or depressed, the sight of a lovely lake, flowering meadow or towering tree can lift the spirits. Who can deny that Christ gives the burst of energy that ensues, the spark we so desperately need?

When you were hungry, who fed you?

When I Was Thirsty, You Gave Me Drink

Sometimes we can thirst for affirmation as much as for water. At times in our lives when we are shaky or insecure, Christ comes in the guise of a compliment, the security of a friendship.

After drafting the first chapters of what would eventually become my book Hidden Women of the Gospels, I was filled with hope, but I was also uncertain. Could an approach to the New Testament that was so different, so geared to women ever be accepted?

With trepidation I showed the manuscript to my spiritual director. I shall always remember his quick response: “Itís magnificent.” He probably exaggerated, but his words gave me the grace to continue. On the strength of such assurance, we can walk a dry and dusty path.

Those who long for family are sometimes rewarded with the gift of children or another relationship. The births of my children answered a long thirst, nine months of anticipation and worry. Each child arriving unique, given in total trust, growing and blossomingóno wonder we celebrate each one with champagne!

So too, a lonely person sometimes finds an unexpected intimacy. Christ comes through a person who is the answer to prayer, the rain after drought.

When you were thirsty, who gave you a drink?

When I Was a Stranger, You Took Me Into Your Home

We owe a great debt to those who sheltered us in childhood. Letís start with our parents, who brought us as infants into their lives, probably not dreaming how much expense, disruption and worry we would cause. Letís look too at the wider circle of friends and relatives who, in one way or another, welcomed us into their homes.

Later in life, we may take a spouse or dear friend into our home, becoming for the other the person of Christ. Colleagues welcome us to new work situations; neighbors help us feel at home in a new setting.

The first few times I went to a nearby retreat house, I felt insecure about the routines, uncomfortable in the silences. But every morning as I bumbled to the coffeepot, one outgoing, elderly Jesuit would see me coming. Disregarding the signs about silence, heíd bellow across the dining room, “Sweetheart!” Everyone would grin, Iíd hug him and the day would start well. In unfamiliar surroundings, he put me at ease.

Who welcomed you when you felt like a stranger?

When I Was Naked, You Clothed Me

Clothing has always had spiritual significance, from the wedding garment of Isaiah 61:10 to the white gown of Baptism. But itís hard to understand the symbolism in Scripture or sacrament unless we have first been clothed on the most natural plane.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie Romero occurs after the archbishop has had a brutal encounter with the military regime. He emerges from a violent scene naked to the waist; when his people hang his stole around his neck, they are vesting him with more than cloth. They are restoring the dignity of his priesthood.

Those who criticize consumerism are right to remind us of our obligations to the poor. But sometimes “retail therapy” can boost a sagging spirit or prepare for a special event. I donít know if better-behavior-when-well-dressed is gender-related. But I suspect a new shirt sometimes prompts more graciousness and tolerance than a homily does.

“You go, girl!” is a frequent refrain from the dressing room when my daughters and I try on clothes. They encourage me to break stodgy molds, try new colors and styles. From the maternal perspective, I delight in their slender young figures, and with absolutely no bias, think they look beautiful in almost everything.

In some hotel room of the future, Iíll be dressing to give a talk. As I pull the suit or the blouse out of my suitcase, Iíll return mentally to a dressing room with my daughters. The joy of that shopping spree will spill over as I look in the mirror, and later stand at the podium. The clothing is metaphor for the gifts of respect and confidence we give each other.

Who has clothed you in beauty or honor?

When I Was Sick, You Came to My Help

When we are sick, we are vulnerable. We surrender our usual control and land (with some grumpiness) in the care of others. While caring for the sick is surely a work of mercy, being sick is a strain on anyoneís good humor. Whether itís the severe pain of serious illness or the discombobulation of the flu, it unravels our independence and forces us to rely on the kindness of others.

A tonsillectomy at age 29 is no picnic. No doctor misleads a patient at that advanced age with the cheery encouragement, “Kids bounce right back!” But chronic infections made surgery my only recourse. I remember waking in a hospital bed with a killer sore throat, late at night. My husband sat in a metal folding chair beside me, sound asleep, still holding my hand. The face of Christ bends over the sick.

After one of our sons had surgery several days before Christmas, we were warned that he couldnít come into contact with anyone else who was ill. So we were distraught when his brother came down with strep throat.

Yet on Christmas Eve, his pediatrician left his own family and came to the office to administer penicillin. When we thanked him for his generosity, he demurred, “Canít have a little guy sickóor contagiousóon Christmas!”

Who helped when you were ill?

When I Was in Prison, You Visited Me

Jail ministry deserves our utmost respect. Many of us wonder if weíd ever be able to do it, and admire those who regularly enter the cold world of the penal institution.

Those ministers bring the warmth of Christís care, the balm of his forgiveness to individuals who would otherwise never receive it. But what of those on the inside?

If we have never been incarcerated, weíll need to think more broadly about this one. But even those without prison records know the misery of being caged in depression, pessimism, addiction or self-doubt.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) has been for many people the key in the lock; the fidelity of an A.A. sponsor who intervenes during a 3 a.m. crisis exemplifies the “wounded healer.”

Sometimes when caught up in anxiety or stress, I have been rescued by friends. The laughing voice that invites me to lunch, the jokes that keep me grounded, the casual comment or the serious conversationóall can restore perspective. Agonizing once about giving a retreat, I was grateful to a friend who reminded me, “Itís not our work. Itís Godís.”

When we are sunk in despair, itís almost impossible to free ourselves. Again we rely on the compassion and competence of Christ in other people.

Who has visited you when you felt imprisoned?

Following Christís Example

Searching our own experience for the traces of Christís fingerprints, we may find uncountable blessings. We see that Jesusí incarnation did not occur only once in Bethlehem, but continues right here, right now.

C. S. Lewis describes this reality when he addresses God: “So it was you all along. Everyone I ever loved, it was you. Everything decent or fine that ever happened to me, everything that made me reach out and try to be better, it was you all along.”

When Christ in many faces has helped us so often, how can we turn from him in need? His style teaches us how to “go and do likewise.”

 

Kathy Coffey, the author of God in the Moment: Making Every Day a Prayer, gives retreats and workshops nationally and lives with her family in Denver, Colorado.


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