It is so easy for me to forget that the human beings I encounter every day are real persons. Of course I forget about the check-out person at the grocery story, or the person behind the fast food counter or the drive through window. The person at the bank. The person in the car in front of me. The person on the other end of the phone when I need tech support. They are all just widgets whose purpose for existing is reduced to fulfilling my needs.
Well, perhaps I don't entirely forget them. I try to be nice and polite. These encounters are brief, and barely scratch the surface of my consciousness. Still, I know that I am not adequate to the reality that they bear; I am numb to the miracle of the unique persons all around me.
It's even worse when something goes wrong.
Part of it is simply the weight of being human. I'm tired. I'm in a hurry. I am troubled by my own frustrations, and am anxious to accomplish a task (even a simple one) because I have been hurt by the experience of failure and I am afraid of failing again. I am physically and mentally incapable of handling stress. Perhaps I'm hungry. Or constipated. The wiring in my brain is all messed up, of course. I have issues, I have defense mechanisms, I have walls that I have built to protect myself, I have genetic predispositions to react in certain ways, I have hormones and an endocrine system that is--no doubt--out of balance. Biotoxins flow through my blood, the environment poisons me, the relentlessness of getting older wears me down. This is the human environment from which my conscious intentions, thoughts, and desires emerge.
But the fact is that I have free will. I am responsible for myself and my actions. Whatever problems I may have, my freedom is still summoned to grow in love. Every encounter with a person is an opportunity to love, however small. The call to love is greater than my weakness. But I am weak. I must learn to adhere to this greater reality that is love.
The call to love is a grace, and it is drawing me toward healing. Healing comes from grace. The capacity to recognize the human person comes from Christ, whose presence I must learn to recognize. How? I must pray. I must ask for Him to heal me and transform me. I must receive Him in the sacraments. I must follow those who have already grown in the art of living. I must listen, and be humble.
The need to recognize the person, and the possibility for love, penetrates the whole day. I must ask myself, "How often do I treat my wife as a 'thing,' a piece of my life rather than an other person to be loved?" How often do I look at my children and recognize that they are persons? It is easy to acknowledge all of this in theory, and write nice, appreciate essays about my wife and children. That's easy.
But in real life? In everyday things? The call of love is blocked by evasion, impatience, words ill-spoken, the subtle workings of power and manipulation, or just plain distraction.
How do I treat these people every day?
There is material for an examination of conscience right there: one that brings humility, and sorrow, and a memory that commits me again to the vocation of love and the work that it requires.
If I were alone in my own being, however, it would be a fruitless commitment. But I am not alone. Jesus is present, and He is at work in my life by the power of His Spirit.
I fail again and again. But Jesus is present. Jesus has conquered my weakness. I must never be discouraged. I must keep going to Him, seeking Him, asking for Him, letting Him build me up through the instruments of His grace, and learning more and more to recognize Him in other persons, in every circumstance, asking for my love.