Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The following is a reflection about the sixth station of the cross prepared by Leslie Carandang, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Leslie is working at Catholic Charities Southwest Regional Office and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

Because of Amate House, the phrase “love in action” is frequently heard around here, and it was the phrase that first came into my mind with this Station of the Cross. Here, Veronica wipes Jesus’ bloody, sweaty face, a seemingly small gesture towards an individual experiencing deep suffering and hardship and a demonstration of her love for him through her actions. On a personal level, reflecting on Veronica’s small act of love has allowed me to recall how small gestures have served as expressions of love throughout my Amate year, both in my community and at my site placement.

Undoubtedly, I have felt loved by my community members through their seemingly small gestures towards me. Sometimes the act of love seems very small – a surprise Take 5 candy bar bought for me, an unexpected hug, a mug of coffee (with a straw of course) brought to my room. Other times, the small gesture seems a little grander because at the time I was struggling with something or otherwise suffering. For example, one morning before work, I was in a horrible mood and clearly unable to disguise it. I put my head down on the kitchen table, feeling defeated and uncertain of how I was going to make it through the entire day feeling so low. Unprompted, one of my housemates came over to me and stood by me, and she stroked my hair for a few moments. She did not know the specifics as to what was wrong, but she did not need to. She was just there.
Or, as another example, back in December, I had a mild medical episode where I felt like I had something stuck in my throat, and I ended up having difficulties breathing. I turned to one of my housemates for her input, but she was stumped too and unsure of what to suggest or do to help me best as I was struggling. However, she drove me through a snowstorm on a Sunday afternoon to urgent care. This gesture – driving me, staying with me, teaching me to use my new inhaler later – seemed rooted in compassion and truly made me feel loved.

I believe in a God who loves all of humanity in a way that is so vast and unconditional. Relatedly, I believe that God works through people to demonstrate this love for each of us. So, to me, each small gesture from someone in my life that makes me feel loved in turn feels like God working through that person to remind me and show me how much he loves me. Remembering how God loves me, and recognizing his demonstration of that love for me through people placed throughout my life, calls me to act in a particular way, especially at my site placement.
Leslie shares her Stations of the Cross reflection at St. Maurice church in McKinley Park.
I strive to be a loving person towards the people I interact with at Catholic Charities. Acting lovingly towards the people who walk through our door does not happen through dramatic actions or drastic measures to radically transform their current situations; most of the time, I’m not even in a position to act in such a way. Instead, I focus on the little things that I can do to love the person right in front of me, particularly when that person has come to my office under precarious and complicated circumstances. The philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little,” and I channel that mentality often.

To that end, I see the bags of food I hand out to clients at Casa Catalina on Tuesdays, the box of Kleenex that I’ll slide across my desk toward a client who is crying, the thirty minutes I’ll occasionally spend quizzing someone for an immigration test they still don’t know if they’re ultimately going to take – all as small gestures of love. And sometimes I like to think that maybe my clients will have a similar reflection down the road – a thought like, “You know, that was nice,” and they will feel the warmth of God’s love for them because of some kindness I showed them or something I did, just like how I have felt God’s love myself through my housemates’ kindness towards me. Most of the time, I have no idea though if my actions truly have this effect, but I am grateful to have a handful of stories that have given me a glimpse of the effect of which I’m speaking.

For instance, one day, someone I’ve known for a while came by with her husband because they needed assistance filling out all of this paperwork to apply for social security because of his disability. They speak mainly Spanish, and this paperwork was pages and pages of questions… of course only available in English. So, I offered to be the person who would sit with them and work through it. I stumbled through translations at times, and the longer we worked and the more stories he told me about the reality of his injuries, the more invested I became, and I found myself wishing I could do more to alleviate his pain; my efforts at completing this highly-official governmental form seemed trivial at most.  Classic me – when we finally finished, I apologized that it took so long, feeling like I had inconvenienced them; this was probably not how they had hoped to spend their morning. However, I was kindly told that I was mistaken. Because of his disability that leaves him so dependent on others, he usually spends the days by himself while his wife is at work. He told me that he found our three hours working together through this paperwork to be a blessing in his day because for once, his day was not spent feeling so lonely. This small deed – some paperwork and some presence – appeared to have had a positive impact and perhaps was enough.

Veronica’s action in this Station of the Cross is a classic small gesture of love. She could not change Jesus’ circumstances, similar to how my housemates/friends often can’t change mine and how I often can’t change those of my clients at Catholic Charities. Perhaps, though, that’s not even what living out the love of God is asking of us. I see it more as loving people where they are, as they are, and I think that’s what Veronica did for Jesus. She recognized what she could do – a small act out of love – and she did it confidently. For my community, my clients at work, and myself, I think that’s what we’re all doing in being there for each other too.

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