January 18, 2015

Learning How to Look at Others

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There’s a little detail in this Sunday’s Gospel reading that made me pause and think about how I approach ministry.  
It’s one of the classic moments in the Gospels, where we hear about the Call of the First Disciples in John 1:35-42. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples decide to follow Jesus, which leads to Jesus telling them to “Come and see…”.  Then Andrew, one of the two, goes and gets his brother Simon Peter and tells him “We have found the Messiah” and then he takes his brother to Jesus.  
And this is where I think it gets really interesting.  It doesn’t say that Andrew took Peter to Jesus and then Jesus started preaching to the group.  It also doesn’t say that Peter showed up and Jesus started rattling off orders of what he needed to do.  
It says:  Jesus looked at him…
Those words really made me think for a second. 

It’s such a small detail… I mean, you’d assume Jesus was looking a Peter when they met for the first time.  But the fact that John 1:42 specifically says “Jesus looked at him before going on about the big moment when Jesus tells him what he is going to be called, makes me think that Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with pushing his own plans on Peter as he was focused on recognizing who Peter was.  

Jesus looked at him.  

This is a skill that can be tempting to forget, especially when we’re involved in ministry of any kind.  It’s easy to hear about someone’s situation and say “Oh well you just need to get your kid baptized…” or “You should get your marriage convalidated so you can return to the sacraments…”.  It’s easy to tell people that “all they need is Jesus”, or that they just need to pray a certain prayer, or better yet that they just need to go talk to the priest, or counselor.  And all of those things may very well be true!  Sometimes we really do need to enthusiastically encourage people to get involved in the life of the parish and invite them to go deeper in their faith journeys.  
But before any of that can happen, we have to be able to see people.  
I know for myself working in full-time to ministry, there can, at times, be a temptation to just go through the paperwork for baptism or marriage preparation without ever really getting to know the people sitting in my office.  It’s easy to fill out census forms, hand people checklists, and pass on my business card.  It’s another thing entirely to step back and spend time getting to know who someone is, and listen to their story.  
When I think about the moment that Jesus looked at Simon Peter, I don’t think it was an awkward silence or stare down from Jesus before giving the poor guy a new name.  I think was more like Jesus’ eyes met Peter’s, he probably gave one of those classic Jesus smiles, and Jesus’ heart was full of love and compassion for this new disciple for whom God had some pretty big plans.  I mean, spoiler alert, he called him “Cephas” (which means “rock”).  
Jesus looked at Peter and all of the disciples as children of God first as foremost, which means he loved them as God does from that very first encounter. 
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It makes me wonder, do I see people the way that Jesus does?  Do I care about who they are and what their unique story is?  Do I see them as children of God or do I see them as another person who needs another “thing” and then send them on their way?  

Honestly, there are moments where I fail big time in this area.  A couple will show up 15 or 20 minutes late for their appointment, they will be gruff or short with me, and in the end I’m just happy to get the meeting over with.  But then there are other times in which I really get to know a person or their family and I hear incredible stories.  
I get to hear stories like the mom who wasn’t coming to Mass every weekend, but her husband had died a few months earlier and she was finally at the point of functioning again and finding hope in her faith.  
Or the adults who grew up far away from any kind of faith life or spirituality and have discovered the beauty of the Catholic Church and are hungry for more. 
Or the couple who comes in wanting to start marriage preparation after decades of cohabiting because they have had an encounter with Christ through a retreat or prayer service and are longing for the sacraments. 

There are some inspiring and beautiful stories that I get to hear, often when I least expect it.  But it requires taking the time to really see people, and to focus on who they are more than what I can offer them.  

Before we send people off to another formation program, or tell them to talk to a priest, or give them paperwork to fill out, we have to look at them.   We are called to look at them, to love them and to hear their story

Sometimes what people need to hear before the checklist or form are pulled out is that we recognize who they are as a brother or sister in Christ and that we care.

Lord, teach us how to look at others.  
Teach us how to see them as you see them, 
and to love them as you love them.  
Give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to love.
Amen.  

Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see

be at peace
walk on water
be not afraid

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