To See the Face of Christ in Another
Christ is secured as the center of our daily lived community through our striving toward empathy to understand and live the experiences of one another and see how God has moved in each other’s lives. We also struggle to help our brothers to empathize with us. When we come to see that we are all on that journey to God, each at a very different place, we come to be more gentle with one another. When we recognize that we too are only able to see so far up the road, or so far behind us, we become more gentle with ourselves.
It is when we as brothers share hurts and struggles, our humanness, our vulnerabilities and our fears that we can see the face of Christ in the lives of one another. Not just their experience of Christ, but the Christ peering through them at us. This is a reciprocal road. We can only openly and honestly receive the vulnerability that we ourselves display. We can only see the wounded and crucified Christ in our brother if we are willing to recognize that same side of ourselves and allow that to be shown at times in community with certain people.
I struggle greatly with this, as I think all people do especially intellectually driven and introverted men. Who was more trusting and vulnerable than Christ who so openly shared himself with humanity that it led him to the cross? We grow in trust of each other and of God and begin to live a life of hope, not of fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) I can say that such sharing, trust and openness has been greatly modeled for me.
I see the struggles my classmates endure and grow from their perspectives on and experiences of God and life. I see the challenges we face as very different people and each day recognize a little bit more that we are all on the same journey just in very different ways. I have been challenged to understand and seek to experience objectivity, truth, providence and grace in whole new ways based on how my brothers relate to and encounter God. I have come to appreciate our human struggles and even my own more deeply
We do not only see Christ present in the other through their sadness, weakness or injury. We can also encounter Christ in their heroic virtues which may arise when we least expect it. We can experience it when they are kind and compassionate toward us when we have done something terribly wrong. ( Now you are wondering what I did.. if I have or when I do such things, such tales, if ever published, will be reserved for my memoirs!) I see it in great depth of wisdom, in fortitude to conquer the insurmountable in personal challenges and pains. I see it in the selfless giving that may continue even when you didn’t think they had anything left to give.
The times I have spent helping to assist and care for our eldest confrère, going to doctors appointments, on weekly errand runs, organizing his room (or to be more specific as I was once corrected by him, our room which he occupies), I have come to see how we can utterly turn our lives over to those in our community. I see Christ in my confrère’s elderly vulnerability, but I also see Christ in his wisdom. I am inspired by that even at his age he still continues to reflect on how he can strive to grow closer to God and how he can be more open with his brothers. Even at his age he comes to sing the divine office each morning and evening and participate in daily Eucharist. He still lives for Christ.
A key quote from scripture I often fall back on when keeping an eye out for the mysterious workings of God in and through my brothers is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory…” (3:20-21) or, a easier to recite translation, a favorite of a wise Norbertine, goes, “Glory be to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
To See Christ in Myself
This is the most dangerous of the three points of reflection I present here. It is not an attempt to build false egos, to make us think we are acting as Christ or anything of that sort. Rather, it is the call to be cognizant of how Christ is working in us, how the spirit is moving through us, in our day to day interactions in community. It is the day to day lived“WWJD” (what would Jesus do?)
It is through our common focus of Christ as the center of our hearts, through our desire to love God more deeply that we come to understand, appreciate and love one another. Through that love in community we can go forth, build unity and love those whom we encounter in ministry. Of course, that is not to assume there is not opportunity for ministry with and to our brothers each and every day within the cloister as well.
The lives of the 15 men with whom I live enlighten and enliven my own. This is true even when we argue, even when (on rare occasion) voices are raised. At the end of the day, however, we come to prayer and dine together. Hopefully both sides of conflict can then open themselves more fully to the other person. It is because we see Christ at the center of our lives that we are quick to forgive, quick to apologize and quick to come back together on our communal journey to the heart of the poor and risen Christ.
Thus we strive to suspend judgment when possible yet still call each other to task out of love for them when we notice we wondered a little too far. I certainly don’t always want to hear what is said if a brother is challenging me as Jesus challenged the rich young man. It is only natural to respond with sorrow or anger. But still we persevere. Over time truth sinks in if we are well intentioned and prayerful. Things that were not of God die away. If we continue to find a place for trust, for empathy, for forgiveness, and for prayer we continue to find a little more room in our hearts for love.
We are called to learn to look upon our brothers as Christ would look upon them. We are called to respond in compassion. We must be more aware of our motivations and discern if our responses are those from God or that God would want of us, or if they are from our own narrowness.
We should never grow weary of hope in Christ that through grace we can ever grow to more strongly emulate him. A quote given to me by a close friend years ago has remained near to my heart ever since. It is from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
“but he [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ’ for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2:9-10).