By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
It always amazed me how, whenever I was pregnant, whether I was walking down the street, shopping at the mall, or going to Mass on Sunday… no matter where I went, there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere. It is like being pregnant gave me a special radar to hone in on those who were in the same boat as me. We would notice each other and share a smile that said, “Hang in there… I see you. I see your pain, your sacrifice, your love. I see the difficulties you are dealing with in a world that refuses to make room for you and the child inside you, a world that values productivity and speed as you slow down. Hang in there, my friend; you are not alone.” The rest of the time, which has been the majority of my life, I am sure many pregnant women have walked by without me noticing, without me seeing them… without a glance of love to acknowledge their plight. When I’ve done this, I have sinned in what I have failed to do, “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault….”
Sins of omission are very difficult to deal with, and we should put in extra effort to identify them, lest we compound the omission by omitting to look for them. Acknowledging the limitations of our human nature, we must put checks and balances in place to help us cover all our bases… especially the areas most prone to neglect. The call to love our neighbor requires this; we must not delay. God does not ask the impossible of us. He has given us to one another to help “cover our six.” Just like a pregnant woman has eyes to notice other pregnant women, a person in a wheelchair sees others without mobility. The mother of an autistic child sees her neighbor’s undiagnosed child with empathy. The hard of hearing has more patience with the loudness of the old man standing in line behind him. We can not expect, as individuals, to have eyes that see what is hidden from us; we can only see what we see. But we can choose to see more by actively seeking the company of those different than us.
We must have the courage to expand our view to see all the dimensions of human suffering. What stops us from doing this? A phrase in Spanish comes to mind… “ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente,” which translates to “eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel”…or… “what you don’t know, can’t hurt you.” If we are already suffering, looking to our neighbor in a similar situation brings us comfort; we know we are not alone. But seeking to see suffering we are not going through ourselves right now? That requires courage; that requires love. It requires the courage to be willing to be moved with compassion, to be moved to action fueled by love. Once we see, we can not say we did not know. Once we see, we can not ignore anymore.
One day, as I walked out of a store with my cane, a young man held the door for me and offered to help me with my bags. I gratefully accepted, and we talked as he pushed my shopping cart toward my car. He asked me what was wrong with me; why did I need a cane to walk? After I told him, he shared that his mom also has an illness that makes it difficult for her to walk. He didn’t know that not long before he showed up, I was feeling frustrated that this store did not have an automatic door, nor did it have attendants to help me. I was already tired from shopping and now needed to exert more effort to get my stuff to the car. God heard my cry, and he called the young man. If this man had not experienced his mother’s suffering, he might have walked on by without noticing I was tired, for my suffering was not evident to all. It is not like I had fallen on the ground; almost everyone would leap to help in that circumstance. No, my physical and mental pain was hidden from most. His mom’s illness had been the instrument God used to open this man’s eyes and heart to see me this day, to help me and bring joy and light to my day.
Why does a good God allow suffering? I might not know the full answer, but I know that on that day when I was walking out of a store, the suffering of the young man’s mother and my own worked together to bring greater glory to God. When we look at the Cross, we see what is required of love. Let us open our eyes and expand our worldview. Let us not be afraid of allowing the suffering of others to break our hearts, for Christ is ready to heal and strengthen us, to then use us in His service… to help us bring sight to the blind and bring comfort to the afflicted.