Lots of people right now are looking for ways to serve. Here’s a great one: blankets for refugees! But it comes with an expiration date: they must have the blankets in Virginia by Nov. 30. We all have been given lots of baby blankets, right? And most of them saw very little use and are still in very good shape, lying on the shelf gathering dust? Launder them, box them up and let them be your love letter to the world.
I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary here, but the world is really screwed up.
I’m also aware that this is nothing unique to this particular era, this particular election cycle. The world has always been a screwed up place.
Maybe this is maturity—spiritual or otherwise—finally allowing me to reserve a piece of my mental and emotional energy for the suffering of someone besides myself. (We can hope, anyway.) One way or the other, I’m finally beginning to understand where the term “bleeding heart” came from, and although it’s been a term of derision my entire life (almost always followed by the dreaded “L” word—”liberal”), I finally recognize it and embrace it, because I see it in the mirror.
As I laid awake tonight, tossing and turning, all too aware of the headache and the sting in my scratched eye, a song kept going round and round my head. It’s a song I heard a concert at a pastoral music conference a number of years ago. It goes, “Please break my heart, O God, with what breaks your heart, O God.”
This is the top of the list of things breaking my heart these days.
My good friend Kelley is doing something amazing in a couple of weeks. She’s going to Greece with an organization called Carry the Future. They provide “baby boxes” that help refugee mothers take care of their children. Mosquito nets, diapers, clothing, blankets, baby carrier, cleaning supplies for Mom, to help her stay healthy so she can safely carry her piece of the future.
And then there’s this telling line on the “baby boxes” page:
Just imagine trying to raise your children in those circumstances. It puts all our fears about kidnappings and head injuries into perspective, doesn’t it?
I’m envious of Kelley for the opportunity to put the works of mercy into action—and I stand in awe of her family’s willingness to shoulder the logistical difficulties associated with the extended absence of its primary caregiver.
My family and I are not that bold, but I can support her efforts, and I can urge those who read this page to donate to Carry The Future, as I am doing today. It should be obvious by now that holing up on our side of the Atlantic cannot protect us from the violence taking place elsewhere. For better and for worse (and it really is both), we are an interconnected world now, and we need to recognize that and start participating in finding solutions. War probably isn’t the answer. Diplomacy might not work, either. But mercy? Mercy just might put a dent in the carnage.
The world is screwed up; our $10 or $20 isn’t going to change that. But as St. Mother Teresa put it: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”
**Note: if you do decide to donate, will you comment here, so we can see if a little blog post from one of the least influential bloggers out there can make a difference?
The light at the top of the exit ramp was red when I pulled up to it. There was a man there. Grizzled. Curly beard. I recognized him. I’ve given him protein bars before. I pulled one out of the box between the seats and rolled down my window. “Here you go,” I said.
“Oh, thank you, ma’am!” he said. “That’s what I’m lookin’ for, is food.”
The light was red. What was I supposed to do now? Roll my window up and ignore his existence?
“Do you…do you have a place to go?” I asked.
He gestured to the opposite crook of the cross formed by four-lane roads. “Naw. I been sleepin’ down in those trees. It’s been pretty chilly lately.”
“I was going to say, it’s not been warm…” I eyed his thin jacket. “Do you have a tent or something, at least?” (Which is not as stupid a question as it might sound. We’ve seen tent communities in highway right-of-ways before.)
It was exactly the the thing I’ve always (to be perfectly frank) dreaded about making eye contact with the homeless people: the need to have a conversation. I want to help. But an introvert hates trying to connect to new people anyway, and what can I possibly say to this man, who survives with almost none of the things I consider to be basic necessities? As the light turned green, I said, “Well…”
He smiled. He was missing his two middle upper teeth. “God bless you, ma’am.”
“Take care of yourself,” I said. Lame. Totally lame, when it’s perfectly clear that this guy has almost none of what he needs in order to take care of himself, and I, even I who am driving around in a van with 130,000 miles on it and making do with one TV (which is still a picture tube)—I could easily buy him a tent and a sleeping bag and a backpack to haul it all around in, if I hadn’t bought, however unwillingly, into the narrative that says These People might just trade it for drink and drugs anyway. And if I hadn’t used the truth that “you can’t fix someone else’s problem” as an excuse not to bother trying.
My insides writhe to admit I’ve allowed my own practice of mercy to be so small, so petty, and so accepting of blanket judgments.
But as I made the left turn and headed for home, I thought of Jesus saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” And how I’ve heard people who work with the poor say the goal is to provide today’s needs. That we don’t have to feel guilty because we’re not providing an ongoing monthly budget and a 401(k).
And I think of Oskar Schindler in the movie, crying, “I could have done more. I could have saved more.”
And I thought, this is what it means to practice mercy. To know it’s not enough. To feel uncomfortable in recognizing the extent of my own privilege. To live with that discomfort, and let it shape my choices today, the ones that build the person I will someday be.
Today I welcome blogger, columnist and author Sarah Reinhard to the blog. Her charm and humor shines through everything she writes, and today’s offering, in which she really digs down to the heart of a lived faith, is no exception!
The Rubber Meets the Road with the Merciful
I was all set to live my life this way until right after I became Catholic. It was at that point, with the sun streaming in through our little parish church, when the director of religious education found me and turned her big brown eyes on me.
“You’d be great as a catechist,” she said, so sincerely, so charmingly, so humbly.
Yeah, you know the drill. I said yes. And life has never been the same.
You see, there’s nothing like a class full of younger people—in my introductory case, 3rd graders—to make all that theory into just a bunch of marshmallows. They don’t care what it’s supposed to look like. They want to know how it is. They want to know why. They want to know how.
And the thing about kids, whether they’re in 3rd grade or 5th grade or Confirmation-aged, is that they’ll ask. They’ll demand (if you’re lucky) or they’ll tune you out (if you’re not).
Over the years, I’ve learned that parents—and, really, all adults—aren’t so different. Give them, for example, a tangible way to apply the commandments and live the beatitudes, and, while they might wiggle their eyebrows (their kids got it naturally), they will also think about it. They will probably try them. With God at work, they may even start to make them their own.
There is a longing in the Catholics all around us for Truth and, even more, for ways to apply Truth. We’re at odds with the world around us, but we’re also so very conditioned and immersed in life…where’s the line? How do we know?
That’s where the last six commandments come in. And, if you stop for a minute, it’s also where the beatitude about mercy—”Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”—comes in.
On the surface, it seems too easy to even mention. At first, you almost wonder if it’s not a cutesy way of saying the same thing twice.
But when you try to live mercy, when you try to refrain from strangling a small person or yanking the hair out of a rude operator, when you attempt to swallow the sharp retort or eat the entire foot you just had shoved down your throat—well, then it becomes clear that mercy isn’t so easy to live. At. All.
This year, our religious education program focused on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy each week. The students earned a cut-out hand to hang on the wall for each work of mercy they performed. In my class, I had one student who really focused on bearing wrongs patiently, especially with his younger sisters.
By the end of the year, a couple of the other students in my class were also citing that work of mercy. They were sharing how they helped someone with homework, how they prayed for a friend, how they did something so inconsequential they giggled as they told me.
And that’s what mercy is, isn’t it? It’s bearing wrongs patiently in our homes so that we’re ready to do it in the Great Big Out There. It’s feeding the hungry who clamor and rudely demand so that we are reflexively gracious and generous with the stranger and poor. It’s a thousand small moments not ignored, but made habit. It’s a way of being that mirrors how Jesus himself taught us to live.
Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mother, author, and farm girl who writes at SnoringScholar.com.