There’s a monastic story that left an impact on me and comes to mind a lot. The story goes like this:
There was a monk who entered anchoritic life – that is, he became a solitary. In this mode of life, he gave himself up to the sweet love of God, and felt many comforts that came from heaven. He felt the active presence of God, he felt joy in his prayers, and the supernatural was ever-present with him. There were physical and spiritual signs of God’s love at all times.
It happened, however, that the people wanted him to be their bishop. With some pressure and coaxing, the hermit relented and accepted to be enthroned as a bishop. Soon after his acceptance, however, the graces he used to receive in his cell were gone. Confused and saddened, he prayed to his God and asked Him if He had taken away these graces as punishment for leaving monastic life for the episcopate.
The response of God, however, was not what was expected. The Lord answered him and told him that certainly what was happening was not a punishment. Rather, the Lord told him, “When you were a hermit, you had none but me, and it was necessary that you receive these graces. Now, however, you are a bishop and you have the people and the people have you. When you are sad, you comfort one another, when there is joy, you rejoice with one another. In all things you have one another!”
The message in a sentence: we are Christ to one another.
This message is consistent with the message of our Lord, when He told the story of separating the sheep from the goats. The defining difference was that one group fed the hungry, visited the imprisoned, clothed the naked, and had compassion on others – the other group did not. Both asked the Lord when they had ever attended to Him or abandoned Him, and He answered that in doing it to others, they had done it to Christ.
Why this story?
It appears lately that we have started to take that precious currency of time, and decided it should be given only to ourselves. We obsess over our own problems, our own desires, our own fantasies, our own griefs and joys, and have forgotten our calling of love. How much has this self-love, however, resulted in greater joy or satisfaction? Are we any more fulfilled for it? More importantly, how many of us have stopped before to think about how unique this “love” thing really is?
Look at our movies and TV shows, the scenes that bring everyone to tears are the scenes where someone defends someone that nobody else would defend, hugs someone who feels ashamed for something, sacrifices oneself for family, friends or country – clearly we are moved by such sacrificial things, but do we ever give it outwardly to others? Do we actually care to give to others, or do we prefer to only watch it in movies or read it in self-help books?
Here’s a challenge. Take a look around you at your immediate environment and think about people you know, see or encounter, and make a point for at least the advent season, to show love.
Here are some examples:
– If you’re in a fight with a spouse, reconcile, even if you think you’re correct
– If you are struggling with your parents or your children, find what is beautiful and wonderful in them and compliment them directly for those gifts
– If there’s a coworker you know is sad about something or struggling with something, encourage that person to speak and release what he/she needs to speak about
– If your atmosphere is poisoned, bring joy and laughter to it
– If you see a homeless person on the corner, go out of your way to make sure you give something, without wasting time judging them or blaming them for their present predicament
– If someone asks you for something, give it to him
– If someone has recently had a loss, comfort as appropriate and try and help in a manner acceptable to that person
– If you have the means (and be honest about it), go volunteer in a homeless shelter or with youth
– Take kids from your church and do something with them – play sports, go for walks, tell stories, but give them a good time out of your own time, not the spare time
– Smile at everyone you see, a smile from the heart
There are countless verses about how we ought to show hospitality to one another, forgive one another, love one another, serve one another, comfort one another, but it’s one thing to list and another thing to act.
There’s a song we sang as children, and it said, “Love is something if you give it away…you end up having more”. Showing love to others is one of the most therapeutic methods for dealing with our own problems and pains. In becoming community, we become the real body of Christ. If we live alone with our issues, we will only feel isolation. In our isolation, emotions and problems are strongly amplified. Alone, there is fear, together there is confidence. Alone there is misery, together there is laughter. Alone there is despair, together there is hope. Our calling to Christianity is not a solo effort, our salvation is in the whole not just in the single. Our Lord said that it is better to give than to receive, and if we spend our effort giving, we will find that we are receiving the increase. In fact, in this sacrificial love we may find ourselves saved, because “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)
There are so many things that can be said, but the idea is to step outside yourself for a while and learn to become Christ to the world around you, learn to be a living love, because we are the children and heirs of God. Every creation takes on the nature and genetics of the thing that made it. We are the offspring and heirs of God. If He by nature is love, then we, too, are meant to be that. As our Lord said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”