Hope in a kind and weathered face

All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters. — Pope Francis

One of my earliest memories of sensing God’s presence was when I was four years old. We lived in Rhode Island at the time, and belonged to St. Margaret parish in Rumford. I remember the scene so vividly. I was sitting in the pew and my mom and siblings got up to go to Communion, but my mom told me to stay in the pew. She said, “We’ll be right back.” But for some reason I was terrified and believed they wouldn’t come back. As they walked down the aisle there was an elderly man sitting in the pew in front of me, and he turned around and said to me, ‘How old are you?” I remember holding up four fingers. Then he said, “Don’t worry, they’ll be right back. See, there they are. They love you very much and wouldn’t leave you alone.” For reasons I cannot explain, in my child’s mind, I absolutely believed this man was God. I can remember like it was yesterday the visceral association I made of safety and comfort with the idea God; all there in his kind and weathered face. I could also say now it was my first conscious taste of hope: the knowledge that God holds in the dark present the unshakable promise of a future dawn.

Mother Teresa said, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish. Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” The greatness of small acts of kindness should never be devalued in Christian thinking. It’s easy, when surrounded by problems of a staggering magnitude and complexity, to lose hope in the significance of my small life.

My spiritual director from the early 1990’s — a sainted priest — used to remind me all the time that every great act of heroism is always preceded by a thousand small and unnoticed acts of virtue; and that the role of the occasional extraordinary act of heroism is simply to hold in relief the higher value of ordinary greatness found in the thousand unsung deeds. And he would always remind me that if the re-creation of all things was effected by a naked, dying man, crucified on a pile of human remains along a public road; a man who spoke seven words of mercy that re-wrote the script of history and called a new creation into being, then my nothing-life, joined to His, was worth living with gusto. The God who loves to count my hairs loves the small stuff.

Let’s get on with it.

6 comments on “Hope in a kind and weathered face

  1. Louise says:

    Tom – I loved that! Thanks for helping me remember that everything I do for the Lord counts, not just the big.decisions I have made (which you know what they are). God bless you!

  2. Nos says:

    Oh how good is our GOD !!!!!!! ,to present the masses with hope filled recollections of frightened four year olds who will go on to a beautiful hope filled ministry that gives this sinner great joy …May our good GOD always bless you so dr.kneel… much love to all the Neal family during our soon to be advent season… tell Patti my thank you note is on the way….

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