It has been 2 weeks since I returned from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in San Diego. While the conference was enriching and renewing, I have been haunted by the number of homeless people I encountered during my morning runs along the beautiful San Diego Bay.
At first, I tried not to notice – I tried not to look their way as they were removing plastic water bottles and soda cans from the trash cans. I tried not to pay attention to the man who took a half-filled Starbucks coffee cup out of the trash and drank it. I tried not to look into the eyes of the woman who asked me if I had any extra change while I was running in my brand new New Balance running sneakers, with my iPhone and Fitbit.
I have prayed and reflected upon these experiences for the past two weeks and they have made me feel uncomfortable and powerless. These encounters and observances make me aware of the disparity between their reality and my own sense of security and well-being. I feel embarrassed and fake – praying each morning on the loud speaker in school for “those who are less fortunate than we are, for those who do not have enough to eat this day, for those who do not have protection from the cold and rain” and yet, I do nothing when I come face to face with their need and pleas for help.
There has to be hope somewhere in this experience, right? I find it as I reflect on God’s mercy during this Year of Mercy under the leadership of Pope Francis. At the heart of the call to mercy is the command to love our neighbors as ourselves—an easy task when it comes to friends and family, but much more difficult when we are faced with people who are different from us.
Here is my lesson learned: As I seek to live out the Gospel, I am reminded to challenge myself to be open to the love that only God can express through each and every person He puts into my life, particularly to the strangers who think and live differently than I do. If we open ourselves to these true encounters with others, then I believe we will find abundance and an encounter with Jesus Christ. Also, each morning I pray with the school, I remember those faces, those eyes, and recall that at those moments, I was looking into the Face of God.