When I first came to America, I remembered the time when learning English was so hard. The first few years were hard as I tried to grasp the use of the language, how to properly enunciate, and get the “sing-songy” melody of the language right. However, the first six months were even harder because I just could not get the basic grammatical and phonetics down. I remembered crying in between class sessions because it was just too overwhelming, and I felt like I have to learn to speak the language as soon as I can in order to help my parents out with so many things that many typical immigrant families have to go through to settle down. I remembered one of my ESL classmates who arrived a year earlier came by, pat me on the back, and consoled me in Vietnamese: “It’s OK. I understand how it feels! Just try your best… It’ll be hard in the beginning but it’ll be easier as time goes on! Just don’t give up… That’s the last thing you want to do!”
Even though that particular episode and manifestation of empathy did not solve any problem or take away any worries, that friend showed me that someone understands the struggles and chooses to care…and I was not alone! In similar ways, when things get rough and the trials get hard, we really do not need one who is there to solve the problem but one who can listen, understand, empathize, and sympathize with us. For me, this is the reason why we need the Church and why we are called to be the Church in action so when things get tough, we can know that we are not alone.
From the beginning of the Church, the Apostles and their disciples, the presbyters and ministers of the Church, while challenging believers to keep the faith, they never abandoned or rejected people in their struggles. Even though they were firm at times to exhort believers in the truth as to do what is right and just, they tried not to place any unnecessary or overwhelming burden upon the new converts beyond what they cannot handle. While they asked the faithful to be strong in the faith and righteous in their actions as to keep the foundational necessities and do what is right, they were mindful of not putting too many burdensome matters upon those who were still young and new in the faith.
God meets us where we are in our brokenness, and with gentleness and patience, leads us to grow in our spiritual maturity through the power and working of the Holy Spirit in and through Mother Church. As a priest, I try to emulate and put this way of discernment and accompaniment in my own priestly ministry. I know, at times, people think that I am too hard on them, asking too much from them! However, my only intention is to encourage people in the truth and pass on what is right and just. I never demanded or asked someone to do something more than what they can handle. In particular, I will never abandon, treat someone with disrespect or without compassion, just because he or she is struggling. You and I had all been there in one way or another! We believe in God who is both just and merciful; therefore, while we are all called to holiness and fidelity, we also seek His forgiveness and compassion when we fall short.
I always try my best to be available, present, and caring for those who come in times of need. It can get hard at times, especially since it is natural for me to feel to “fix” things, I have to remind myself that people do not come to me in times of need to get an answer! Many times, they just need a friend, a minister, a connection to the Almighty in times of trials and hardships. In traumatic or tragic times, situations, and circumstances, people are not capable of processing things clearly. In those moments, many just want to be listened to. Some just want to find comfort in the presence of Christ, to know that they are not alone in the storm. In those moments, the genuine presence of compassion and empathy are powerful so that the Almighty can be present in and through us, even in the silence and fear of the unknown.
Throughout Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John, in particular, 17:20-26, the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that we are not alone nor will He abandon us! He even prayed for us, especially that all be one: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you send me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” How wonderful it is to know that He prayed for us, and how much care the Savior has for each and every one of us so we can know that we are not alone. Hence, this same loving care of the Savior has to be enlivened in us so that we can support and help one another through the storms of life.
He knows that we will be tried and tested, but He will never abandon us. He wants us to be like Him to experience the fullness of the Father‘s love — in good times and in bad! He wants us to be like Him, and that sometimes means that we will be tested and tried, forgotten and abandoned, rejected and crucified out of love. However, He wants us to also be like Him in forgiving, loving, and trusting in God‘s divine goodness and fidelity so we can know that, if He permits us to go into the storm, He will get us out of it.
Let us, therefore, encourage one another in times of trial and be the Church for those who are in need, tried, and tested by life. The Lord Jesus Christ will not abandon us and will always be with us! I hope and pray that we will try our best to lift up our hearts, to abide, love, and follow Him — even when it gets hard. At times when we have failed and fallen short, may we stand up again with His grace and find our comfort in His forgiving grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation as to walk the journey of faith again. Once we have recognized and experienced this healing love of God in our very own lives, may we learn to become wounded healers, intercessors, and helpers for others who are going through trying times as well.