Crossing the Road
Jean Vanier, the Catholic philosopher turned theologian and humanitarian, and a founder member of l'Arche communities, an organization which brings together people with developmental disabilities and the friends who share their lives, talks about a road somewhere in a South American city, one side of which boasts mansions inhabited mainly by rich army officers, while the other harbours the hovels of the poor. "And," Jean Vanier says, "nobody crosses the road. Nobody ever crosses the road."
Perhaps out of mutual fear, distrust or loathing, nobody dares to cross the road. Something terrible might happen. Some unthinkable catastrophe might befall the one who crosses the road. The rich, perhaps stifling vague feelings of guilt at the discrepancy between their privileged lives and the shameful conditions in which their fellow human beings are incarcerated, either cast the poor as a horde of cutthroats who are out for their blood, or else they choose to regard them as invisible, non-existent. And the poor view the rich as a group to strike fear in their hearts, a powerful, merciless group capable of making their desperate lives more desperate than they are already. It is best to keep your head down, best never to meet the eyes of those who probably hold your life in their hands.
And nobody ever crosses the road.
"We are healed by those we reject," Jean Vanier also has said. He passionately espouses the philosophy that true spirituality can only come about from the caring, compassionate relationships we form with the despised, the rejected, the broken, the weak and the lonely.
We need to cross the road.
Jesus crossed the road all the time. He crossed the road to embrace alike the despised, the rejected, the weak and the lonely. He crossed the road to raise up the Samarian woman at the well by entrusting her with his message of salvation; he crossed the road to raise up the tax- collector, Zachaeus, by choosing to rest the night in his house rather than in the houses of those who considered themselves to be infinitely more worthy than the despised tax-collector. He crossed the road to offer forgiveness to his enemies, to those who had betrayed him, to those who were too weak to last the distance. Moments from death, he addressed his father and sought forgiveness for those who had tortured him, those who had nailed him to a cross, those who had spat their contempt and hatred at him.
Jesus crossed the road time and time again.
The Good Samaritan crossed the road to come to the aid of the man who had been robbed and beaten up, not at all concerned with the fact that the victim was a Jew and as such ought to have been the Samaritan's sworn enemy.
Mother Teresa crossed the road to embrace the dying: to comfort and console them, to dignify their lives with her tenderness.
Nelson Mandela crossed the road to forgive his people's oppressors.
Pope Francis crosses the road daily to establish his ministry of the poor.
What do we miss by our failure to cross the road? Jean Vanier would say we miss the opportunity for healing, the healing that comes from reaching out to those around us who are crying out for our help; those whose cries for help we can choose to ignore by staying on our own side of the road looking steadily ahead at gardens which are neat and tidy and houses with sparkling windows and newly- painted doors.
Suffering is very untidy, very unattractive, isn't it? Its untidiness and its unattractiveness can offend our fine sensibilities. The house where suffering and brokenness dwells is dark and gloomy. Its windows are filthy; its garden is overgrown and full of weeds. Loneliness seeps through its walls and reaches out only to disturb our equanimity. It's best not to meet its supplicating eyes, isn't it! It's best not to cross the road. It's best, really, to stay on one's own side of the road. Otherwise, you wouldn't know what mess you might be getting into!
But maybe if we take that hand, that hand that we feel is reaching out to ours, we could cross the road together! Maybe together we could look into the eyes of the broken, the lonely, the destitute, and feel compassion; maybe we might be able to see the face of the suffering Jesus looking back at us, feel that hand in ours urging us forward, urging us to look more deeply, feel more deeply, forgive more wholeheartedly.
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We'll cross the road and walk a little of the way with the broken; we'll join our brokenness to theirs and we'll feel the healing flowing over us and our rejection of what's on the other side dissolving. We will. And we'll feel the warm imprint of the hand which has just gently left ours.
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14th December 2017 Do You See This Woman?
17th October 2017 We Are All One with You
7th September 2017 Gaps
20th June 2017 "Love is not loved."
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21st March 2017 From Darkness to Dawn
27th October 2016 The Bright Field
27th June 2016 The Enemy Within
31st May 2016 The Little Way to The Almighty
25th January 2016 Love Immeasurable
11th November 2015 Letting Go
21st May 2015 The Gift of Loss
6th May 2015 Walls
24th November 2014 Leaning into Winter
24th October 2014 Crossing the Road
25th June 2014 Fetters of the Soul
30th April 2014 The Power of Gratitude
10th March 2014 The Darkling Thrush
11th February 2014 Spring
10th February 2014 Masks
3rd February 2014 Dancing in the Wind
21st January 2014 Chains of nostalgia
13th January 2014 Forgiving wrongs darker than death or night
7th January 2014 Singing out Loud
17th December 2013 CHRISTMAS FOUND
9th December 2013 Withering into the Truth
2nd December 2013 The Celtic Prayer Garden
25th November 2013 Missing Dates
18th November 2013 NEARER GOD’S HEART
12th November 2013 Night
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25th May 2009 The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
18th May 2009 Power of the real presence
7th May 2009 "Lessons I did not learn in School" - by Bill Gates
20th April 2009 JESUS RISES FROM THE DEAD
30th March 2009 The Long Walk to Freedom
23rd March 2009 Become a Friend
16th March 2009 Ireland in Identity Crisis?
9th March 2009 Love to Pray
2nd March 2009 Life - Giving Words
16th February 2009 Exclusion Policy
9th February 2009 Somewhere the Child
2nd February 2009 The Conversion of St Paul
12th January 2009 Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
22nd December 2008 A Christmas Parable by Louis Cassels
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20th October 2008 The following is an extract from a talk given by Bishop George Lungu of Chipata in Zambia in Africa, to the synod of Bishops being held in Rome this month.
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29th September 2008 The Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII