One week ago today, I was driving along and reflecting on my day when one of my favorite Christmas songs came on the radio, “Love came down at Christmas. Love all lovely, Love Divine.”
It felt as if I had walked between many worlds on this particular day. In fact, I walk between worlds most days but at no time are the contrasts more apparent then at Christmas. Stark contrasts.
I had just finished picking up hundreds of gifts at a parish that had been donated to newly arrived refugees.
I stopped by a store to pick up the last two gifts on my list. I watched families, many likely undocumented, grab their bit of the American dream – maybe a toy for each child if someone was generous enough to give a tip at the “under-the-table” job.
In another store, I catch a glimpse of a supreme court justice.
I navigate my way through gatherings of Washington’s elite – lawmakers, diplomats, professionals – the “powerbrokers” of the Free World and I walk among those having no countries at all, fleeing war-torn lands, having not ten cents to their name.
A refugee arrives in my office with a 20” x 20” plastic bag of all of her belongings. A neighbor puts 8 garbage bags of extra belongings on the curb to donate.
Dirty, dingy apartments; pristine urban lofts and suburban “McMansions.
I see a woman walking with her family. Her husband clutching tightly to a small bag which might hold two small gifts for the two young children. The mother breaks a small branch with berries off at the request of her young son. He gives the branch to her. Her haggard face brightens.
I see SUV’s full of bags. People heavy laden with gifts. Faces worn with the burden.
Such contrasts. Painful contrasts. But similarities too.
There are so many kinds of poverty – not just financial. The most affluent people can also be the most poverty-stricken. There is the poverty of age, the poverty of physical illness, the poverty of mental illness, the poverty of addiction, the poverty of loneliness, the poverty of rejection, the poverty of fear, the poverty of abuse, the poverty of homelessness, the poverty of loss of homeland, the poverty of the unwed mother, the poverty of the exhausted mother, the poverty of the exhausted executive, and the list goes on.
Poverty is universal and it always involves division.
Jesuits often speak of working toward the realization of the “Kingdom of God on earth.” I used to wonder exactly what this meant. What would it be like? How could this ever happen when there are such great divides between peoples?
In my job, I spend a lot of time working to “bridge the gap” between worlds by helping families from different “worlds” understand each other. I’m particularly interested in those moments where we cross those barriers, reach over the fence, and touch “the other.”
At this time of year especially, I often witness abundant giving to meet overwhelming needs. But the significance of this giving is more than just financial. Sometimes in this space, I have seen the reach over the divide, the touch, glimpses of “the Kingdom of God on earth.”
When we encounter “the other” and work toward understanding him we are working toward peace. Pope Francis said in his Christmas Urbi et Orbi addess:
“True peace – we know this well – is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, but making peace is an art, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”
In his Christmas homily at Midnight Mass, Pope Francis reflected on “the mystery of walking and seeing: “Walking,” he said, “brings to mind the whole of salvation history, beginning with Abraham, our father in faith. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land.”
It is in this space, where we walk between worlds, encounter “the other,” and reach out to “the other,” that we find the vibrant and vital truth of God’s love for all of His children. In this place, there is no division and all come together in His love.
But we cannot cross the barriers of all these different “worlds” without a bridge.
Pope Francis continued his Christmas homily:
“Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast.
We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake.
You are immense, and you made yourself small;
you are rich and you made yourself poor;
you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.”
In his prayer, Pope Francis highlights the divides that Jesus bridges. Jesus is love incarnate. Jesus is the love that breaks down all barriers, unifies all divides, and erases all contradictions. He is the bridge.
Pope Francis urges us to live lives of encounter with “the other” because it is here that we are granted the grace to see as Christ sees each of us, through the eyes of love. When we come to begin to see as He sees us – beautiful individuals created in His image, all loved boundlessly, with no divisions of human construct, all beckoned by peace and called with great joy to one table – we begin to realize the Kingdom of God here on earth.