In the mid-1980s I was assigned to work with a Catholic organization to manage a shelter for homeless people. The executive director was a man coming from the business world with little experience of pastoral ministry. We differed greatly in our approach to people who are poor and homeless. His approach was no-nonsense. Rules and regulations were to be followed at all times. My approach was trying to understand our guests and what difficulties they faced as a result of being homeless.
Working in a shelter you are accustomed to violent behavior from time to time. During one two-week period we had a significant violent incident every night. One morning the director, reading the night log describing the latest happening, approached me with a great deal of anger. He told me that we had to come down hard on “these” people. We had to let them know that we are in charge and we mean business. He then said in a condescending tone, “Of course we know how you deal with all of this.” Not knowing what he meant, I was hoping he would tell me. He continued by saying that I entered into relationship with “these” people.
I took all of this to prayer and realized that what he had said to me about how I deal with people, entering into relationship with them, is at the core of our faith. God entered into a relationship with us by becoming one of us in the person of Jesus. We have a God who truly knows what it is to be human. God knows our joys as well as our sorrows. God knows what it means to struggle in life and knows the feeling we have when we triumph in that struggle.
It occurred to me that as Jesus did, so must I do. I must take the time and patience to get to know the other. I must try and understand who they are. After time, will they share with me their joys, sorrows and struggles? Will they let me in so I can know who God is for them? If they do, an extraordinary thing happens: The fear we often have of other people, especially those who are different than us, is dispelled. We are then able to relate from the point of view of understanding and love.
This is surely what a missionary is called to do when entering into a different culture and among people who are different then him/herself. I will go a step further and say this is the calling of all of us who follow Jesus. There are always people we keep at a distance because they are different. The more we take the time to know the other the more we will act out of a sense of understanding and appreciation than out of fear and mistrust. If we commit ourselves to this, the Kingdom of God can become a fuller reality in our world.
--Br. Tim Sucher, OFM