“The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.”
-Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” #88
Some body said that going to Religious Ed. Congress down in Anaheim is like going to heaven. Ok, that might be stretching it a little far (no need for liturgical commentary here, or complaints about parking either). What struck me the most about this weekend was just the sheer amount of people and how many I knew and had not seen in so long and how good it was to be around them again. I had missed so many of these people so deeply, without realizing it until I saw them again. I think that might be one of the small joys of heaven: to look around and realize just how deeply we do love the people around us; even the people we haven’t seen in so long; even the people we’ve never met before.
Still, one of the struggles for me this weekend was that there were just so many people. It was like a double edged sword: so many people to see and greet and chat with, but not enough time to do it all. I found myself thinking, this weekend was so full of these quick, but joyful, like 5 minute interactions, that it was just exhausting. And then I also had a few moments to actually sit down and go deeper with a few friends, old and new, and realize how much more challenging that was.
You see, it’s really easy for me as a seminarian and, God willing, future priest, and for all of us really I think, to go from one quick fix greeting and handshake or hug to the next, with hardly a look in the eye, hardly a sharing of real intimate time. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to do that when I could, with as short a time as I had with each and every person I came across, but I’ve got to admit that it just felt safer and easier at times to keep it short, to avoid the depth that can come from actually relating, actually spending real time with each and every person.
Not to take away from an short hi’s and bye’s I may have had with any of you (for those I’m thankful for sure), but I’m so grateful that God gave me some of those deeper moments, those more challenging moments, when I could put my smile and handshake away for a few more minutes and be a little more real, a little deeper, a little more intimate. I keep thinking of so many of Jesus’ miracles and healings, and how intimate they must have been. Constantly people are bombarding him for requests and blessings, and I never once get the feeling that he rushed them. Sometimes he took them aside and sometimes he had long conversations with them. Every time, though, it was a relationship (or at least he desired a relationship with them), it was more than a quick fix. We’ve got to do the same. If we’re going to try to be like Jesus, to in a way be healers, and friends, like him, we can’t go from person to person without caring for them, without caring for their souls. It feels safer for me to guard myself at these huge events like Youth Day and Congress, but the most rewarding interactions are those that challenge me the most, when in the midst of thousands and thousands of people, I feel like I’m alone with jut that one person. The way it must have felt to be loved, to be challenged, to be looked in the eyes by Jesus.