By Tanner Loper, FC 21
I often feel I am too quiet or passive in my service. Opportunities and experiences seem to constantly pass me by. I hear all this talk about how God is in the moment and how, if only I could be mindful of Him, He would bring a new life into my days and work. Perhaps this is right, and I continue to work on my mindfulness, but my experience in FrancisCorps has shown me that faith is not necessarily about mindfulness. It is about communing with the Lord even after the encounter, and, through that, allowing Him to transform me.
In the first week of January, I found myself standing under a gazebo in the gray chill of a Syracuse mid morning. Around me was an acre or two of soft, rolling hills, mottled with patches of yet unmelted snow. The snowy meadow was framed by a narrow, naked tree line. The news forecasted warm temperatures, but right then, I could not feel my nose. Scattered in the field were patches of brightly-colored flowers, which seemed to have dug their way up through the dirt and snow. I shared the gazebo with two people and one casket. The body of a man I never met was tucked into its second crib. We went through the short prayer service, and I helped carry the casket to its burial vault. It all happened so quickly that I hardly felt I was there, but now I find myself asking: “What was he like?” “What dreams did he have?” “What was the most beautiful thing he ever saw?” The thoughts I would have liked to have had there, under the gazebo, came to me days and weeks later. I prayed: “Lord, you certainly could have done something; why didn’t you?”
I never heard the answer, nor do I expect one in this lifetime. The mystery of suffering, I find, does not shake my faith. If it did, I would be a committed atheist by now. There are times in my work with the poorest of the poor when the sin and the pain seem too much to have ever been chosen. There are times when the pit of despair seems so deep I can hardly hear the echo of a divinely-created soul at the bottom. It can all look so dark, but I see in the eyes of some men a small light of hope, and that glimmer is enough to see the darkness of pain and sorrow illumined out of existence. God’s Love is too great in the smallest good for even the greatest evil carry meaning.
In the last week of January, I stood in the sanctuary of Assumption Church, the FrancisCorps parish. The lights were so bright, and I was perpetually certain I was standing in the wrong spot or moving my arms funny. I said, in a manner more rote than usual, the missal’s adaptation of the centurion’s words: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” At that time, I felt the blood leave the upper half of my body, and I became keenly aware of the warm patch of oil on my forehead. The next thing I knew, I was back in the pew fearing that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ were stuck between my teeth.
Unless you chew the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
I am known for ruminating; I am slow to pass sincere judgment or offer my thoughts on something. I have often seen this as a great fault of mine: I prefer to be alone and to “chew” on things. As I work at the men’s shelter or participate in the sacraments of Christ’s Church on earth, it all goes by too quickly. Nothing makes sense as its happening; I find myself present in the proper sense only after the moment has passed. The life Jesus refers to is in the chewing. Christ appears before me in the men I see every day. I am learning to serve them without needing it to make sense. In the quiet moments between, I chew, swallow, and allow Him to nourish me. I have learned to not fear having Christ between my teeth, so to speak, for He is the one I want people to see in my smile.
Tanner is a Shelter Worker at Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter. Visit our placement sites page to learn more about Tanner’s site and others we offer.