Sunday, July 22, 2018

Staying With Others in the Poverty of Our Own Hearts

Our commitment to loving one another and living in communion faces many challenges. We must learn that real love means staying with other persons before, above, and beyond our capacity to fix their problems, relieve their sufferings, or accomplish anything that seems "useful" for them.

The fundamental and ultimate reason for companionship with another person is the fact that every human person—simply by virtue of being a person—deserves to be loved. This love affirms the value of the person in his or her very existence.

Often we focus so much on "what we can do" that we tend (even if only subconsciously) to distance ourselves from people when we can't do anything to make them better or help them in some perceiveable way.

Why is it so hard to just stay with people and "suffer-with" them?

Perhaps part of it is the fact that suffering unveils something of the mystery of the essential, underlying need at the core of the person. All our necessary and worthwhile efforts to relieve suffering and improve people's lives eventually reach their limit. The life of this world, of time and space, is limited by its nature.

But the human person is not satisfied by these limits. This is why human suffering is ultimately so dramatic, inscrutable, and ... terrifying!

Human suffering is personal. For the person we accompany in solidarity, there is always that dimension of suffering that is a "cry" addressed to the Mystery, that expresses the aching of the need for the infinite that also burns within our own hearts.

In its utterly personal and particular depth, suffering reveals that we cannot satisfy or fulfill one another or ourselves by our own power. We cannot resolve our own mystery; indeed we experience ourselves as frustrated and incapacitated even as we continue to hope for something beyond ourselves, beyond the whole universe.

The irresolvable dimension of human suffering is both strange and familiar to us. We want to be present with the suffering person to the end. Yet it is only natural that we experience a very intense emotion of fear—a fear not only for those we accompany, but also for ourselves.

We are afraid of our own vulnerability and helplessness that is exposed when we live the awful solidarity with another person in their disability and pain, when we must be impacted and struck by it without any real or imagined defenses. We must not be overcome by this fear. We must not give in to discouragement.

They are helpless and all we can do is be helpless with them.

We can "cry out" together with them, from the poverty of our own hearts, for the answer to the mystery of our own being.

Apparently meaningless suffering cannot be the final word on life. How can it be possible for the unique human person—infinite in their desire and persistent in their search—to be crushed in the end?

How can "I" be crushed...?

If we accept being crushed, we deny our humanity. There has to be something more! Our most desperate cries in the greatest of our pains can still be cries for help to the One who made us, who sustains us in being, and who calls us to fulfillment in freedom and love, to happiness.

We have not been made for nothing! We have not been made to be negated by life. Even if we think we deserve it, we must not lose hope.

No matter where we are in life's journey, no matter how much we already know, we need to follow the Ultimate Mystery that calls us beyond our own limits, that helps us if we ask with trust even in the midst of all the strangeness of whatever we're going through.

Salvation never comes in exactly the way we "expect." It's like the arrival of someone we know well, but who we feel like we are meeting all over again "for the first time."

Salvation is always surprising, always entering in as a new reality, an unexpected encounter that convinces us that we are loved more that we can ever imagine.