If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recognize the title from an old folk hymn; we sang it repeatedly at Folk Mass in the 70’s and early 80’s. While the song itself is no longer popular, the message behind it is timeless.
I was contacted to see an inpatient at one of our busiest hospitals. Walking through a hospital is an interesting study in the human condition. Everyone is preoccupied. Everyone has somewhere urgent to go. Staff hurriedly go about doing important work. Most of the other people look like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. There’s not much eye contact and even less smiling. A busy hospital corridor is a perfect example of how alone we can be in a crowd. It’s the same on busy streets, packed elevators, the line at the grocery store, even in our own homes.
Yet, in these overflowing but isolating places, we are called to spread the Gospel in word and deed; not by spouting off Bible verses at unsuspecting strangers- does anyone ever listen to the guy on the street corner preaching about the end of the world? – but by a kind word, a gentle smile and perhaps Biblical words of encouragement that flow from there. It’s that simple.
Letting someone ahead of us in traffic or in line speaks volumes. So does catching the eye of a worried looking stranger and giving them a smile. Hold the door open. Give up a seat on the bus or subway. Sit down and share a meal and a good conversation with your family. Have a chat with someone in the long line at Starbucks. Better yet, take the money that would have been spent at Starbucks and donate it to a charity. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” Mother Teresa said. The office, the mall, and most importantly, the home, are the best places to start.
It takes a leap of faith to reach out to people we don’t know and those we think we do know. We could be rejected or greeted with hostility – or worse. But if we all think that way, then kindness will die and we will live in a world of forgotten, lonely, unhappy, hopeless people. In any gesture of Christian charity, one thing is necessary: we need to look at and see our neighbor. That means we have to stop isolating ourselves from them. We have to stop focusing on our problems and preoccupations and look up and out at the world.
Being a Christian involves risk. Sharing the Gospel and being a person for others demands selflessness. It takes courage that only comes with faith and that only comes with unceasing prayer and a Sacramental life. The rewards, for others and for ourselves, are immeasurable. So, let our Christian love shine through and that old folk hymn will keep on playing……