When I first went to Wichita West High School (1998-2002), I felt very out of place because many of my middle school friends were at another school. It was hard because I did not know a lot of people and it was a rougher school; however, the head football coach looked out for me and brought me on to help with the team. He took me to games and introduced me to the game of football. The coaches even offered to give me a varsity football letter if I can purchase a lettermen jacket, but I could not because I knew firsthand that my parents were struggling financially at that time. Even though I never got what was offered, the coaches’ care for me gave me much more than a jacket! The memories ingrained what I always treasured and valued as the most important American value — kindness. In the midst of many things that are going on in our nation and the world right now, I pray that we never lose sight of kindness for one another, for this is what makes us real humans and Americans.
I think kindness, respect, and tolerance are overused words nowadays. I have seen so many political and social advances, initiatives, agendas, movements, and advertisements using these words but few people really put them into real practice. We tend to want these things but not many people are willing to live the integral values with how we actually treat one another. At best, we live in a politically-correct world that pushes the truth aside, forces false integration and conformity, and simply keeps things quiet and hushed up, but really does not deal with them on a real, personal, and integral level. We demand empty political actions and feel-good laws, thinking that they somehow reflect that we have become as a more understanding, tolerant, and respectful society on the outside; nonetheless, the hearts of people remained, if not have become much more oppressive, judgmental, and negative behind the false labels.
Too many people want all things to be nicely-packaged on the outside, but deep from within, they still harbor hatred, selfishness, and condemnation for those who do not share their particular views. We see this reality very often when people hide behind their screens to attack, yell, and become vocal at each other, making sure they outdo their opponents, but no one really listens and cares. We have become a society of words that say much but really do little about how we can personally choose to care for one another. As a matter of fact, when it comes to truly caring and being kind to people, we often want charities, nonprofit organizations, or the government to do the dirty deeds for us.
We think that we do enough because we give donations to some charities from time to time, pay our taxes, share some politically-correct stances on social media, or do something nice to someone once in a while. However, that is just shallow charity based on feel-good, sporadic, or inconsistent actions but not true charity out of love.
There is really a difference!
True charity cares and wills the good of the other side, even when we do not agree or like them, and challenges us to go out of our way to love our neighbors in personal ways. It is easy to preach about love, but it is really hard to truly love someone. Why? Because to truly love requires that we make real, personal, and intimate sacrificial acts to embrace the person and unknown or uncontrollable possibilities, not only at our convenience.
As a Catholic priest, I often get calls for financial assistance from people who are in need of help. Sometimes, I really do not want to answer the phone, especially after a long day, at an odd hour, or just being tired from many daily commitments. Honestly, there were many times that I just wanted to rest and not have to worry about someone needing me for something. However, I have also found that many of God‘s teaching moments for me come through those times of inconvenience! I am not saying that it was naturally easy to answer those requests or calls when I just wanted to rest. It really took extra effort to really be present, meet the people where they were, and personally answer, provide, or assist them as best as I am able.
Dealing with people who are needy and want things a certain way, as they would have liked, can definitely be very challenging. People who have been roughing it a while are rough around the edges, and sometimes they can be very demanding, hard to love, and demeaning at times, too. However, the real and personal challenge lay in my ability to meet them where they are, going beyond what I would like for them to be, and doing the best that I can to assist or be present to them as a person. The real challenge for me is that I have to personally desire, will, and push myself to truly be kind, loving, caring, and respectful even when I am tested, pushed to my limit, and expected much of me. Even though I know that I am called to love others, it really takes a personal and extra effort to will to love, embrace, and be present to each person as best as I am able without demanding, expecting, or reacting to what they are not doing, how they do not fit my standards or liking, or how they are not as I hoped them to be.
Truly loving people is personally challenging, to say the least, because it is not easy to genuinely be present and give the best self to the other side. It becomes even harder when the other side is challenging, off-putting, offensive, vocal, or in any way that does not fit our model or liking. And while it is easy to react and give the least of ourselves if we do not like another person, this is when real Christian love has to be willed, chosen, and personally embraced out of love for the other just as Christ has done for us. It is also important to recognize that we do not have to like each and every person to truly care, be present, and lift them up with our very own personal and genuine love because kindness is a gift that we can give to one another. Respect is the foundation of who we are, made in the image and likeness of God. The ability to will the good of others is our vocation, mission, and purpose as disciples of Christ who had given us a real example of what it means to love until the end.
So, I will end this reflection by inviting YOU to reflect on how you can PERSONALLY care for others. I am not asking about some kind of political or social agendas, movements, or organizations, but how you can personally choose to go out of your way to embrace, love, care, and be present to those who are around you. What we give to others might not be worth much and will probably not be recognized by others but our hearts are known by Him. How you choose to care for one another will not be recognized by the media or popular outlets, but God sees and He knows you. In everything that you and I do, let us find the real reason in Him, as a personal, heartfelt, and loving response to the One who has given us His everything. How we care for one another is simply a small reflection of how He cares for us in the scope of eternity! Therefore, when we will and choose to love in seeking the good of others, we remember that He has first chosen and given us what is best from His loving heart. What we have received, may we also share, through Christ our Lord.