• August 11, 2009

Heart’s Home starts in Bethany

Each day of the Holy Week is incred­ibly rich. If we want to under­stand the core of any eccle­sial mis­sion, what­ever it may be, it is essen­tial to con­tem­plate the mys­tery they por­tray. Spending some time in Bethany, in the Cenacle, on Golgotha or on the shore of Galilee Lake, we realize that the events of Jesus Christ’s life, of the Church’s life, and of our own lives seem to happen simul­ta­ne­ously, and can be easily trans­posed. There is no doubt that a mis­sionary living today in Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) is at the same time, mys­te­ri­ously, pre­sent in Gethsemane or at Golgotha. This very cer­ti­tude enlightens and enriches each moment of his life in an unex­pected way. Today, six days before Easter, let’s go to Bethany, and visit Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s place.

Bethany, where one stops to share friendship

Jesus is faithful to His friends. And this very faith­ful­ness is a part of His min­istry. He brings crowds together. He speaks in full syn­a­gogues. But He has only a few true friends. The apos­tles, first. But also those to whom He has been par­tic­u­larly mer­ciful. Zacchaeus, maybe. Mary of Magdala, surely. Each of these friend­ships started with a kind of con­fes­sion (because each of these friend­ships is based on truth), in suc­ces­sive stages: after a first exchange of looks, Jesus called him by his name. Then he begs for­give­ness for his/her sins and Jesus had mercy on him. But such con­fes­sions, which are the begin­ning of a true encounter with Jesus, are only a first step. They are the starting points of spir­i­tual growth. Jesus goes along the way when He is faced with his adver­saries. But He stops to sit at the table of His friends. Jesus is not only a con­fessor, but also a rabbi walking along with the ones He has chosen, and taking His time to sit down with them.

Each of Jesus’ friend­ships is the starting point of a new encounter, as it is often the case for us. Actually, the circle of our friends is always growing. In Heart’s Home, we often expe­ri­ence this: a child whom we met in the street intro­duces us to his younger sister, who intro­duces us to her eldest sister, who intro­duces us to their mother, who intro­duces us to a neighbor... We build a kind of net­work of rela­tion­ships. Mary must have intro­duced Jesus to Martha and Lazarus, who were most likely quite impa­tient to meet the One who had set their sister free. And Jesus must have intro­duced His dis­ci­ples to His friends from Bethany. We know that Jesus loved Lazarus and Martha very much, maybe more than they loved the dis­ci­ples, who were some­times jealous.

Jesus had a hard apos­tolic life: the people were crowding around him, he had much to do, and nowhere to lay his head. He was exhausted with per­forming mir­a­cles and con­stantly strug­gling. He was often rejected and had to face the igno­rance of His dis­ci­ples. He found the strength to go on in the Heart of His Father and the love of His mother. But the grat­i­tude shown by the ones He saved also com­forted Him: they were the living proof of the mercy of the Father that He was revealing in His deeds and through His humble face.

Three years after His bap­tism by John, Jesus knows that His hour has come. He wants to share His last supper on earth with His dis­ci­ples. However, He doesn’t forget all those He has loved. So, before His Passover, He visits them, and, dis­creetly, makes His farewells. He doesn’t want to leave His friends without saying goodbye to them. He wants them to hear His last words, which sum up all His friend­ship, and throw a new light on it. At the same time, He wants to start a new rela­tion­ship with each one of them, which He can only hint at. And, in the end, it is in these last encoun­ters with His friends, and in the puri­fied expres­sion of their eyes that Jesus will find the strength to face His pas­sion.

God is so good as to provide each Heart’s Home with friendly fam­i­lies. When the mis­sion­aries visit these fam­i­lies, they feel like Jesus in Bethany. These friend­ships started with an (often tragic) event, which was an oppor­tu­nity to meet one another, to dis­cuss, to help and help again. They did not grow so easily; there were crises and dif­fi­cul­ties, tears and for­give­ness. But they also became a great source of joy and renewed peace. The friend­ship could go on despite the dif­fi­cul­ties, pro­vided that the mis­sion­aries con­sid­ered the shouts as calls and the fits of anger as the scars of deep wounds.

After many years, many revolts and for­give­ness, many steps back and new starts, the friend­ship between a Heart’s Home com­mu­nity and these fam­i­lies is so strong that there are con­tin­uous com­ings and goings between the two houses. It is some­times hard to know if we visit them because we want to remain faithful to them, or to find refuge, to escape from our dif­fi­cul­ties and suf­fer­ings. It’s hard to know who is helping whom. These fam­i­lies are places where we find strength before a dif­fi­cult visit to another family, or after facing crises in our com­mu­ni­ties.

These “Bethany” places are where hope pre­vails. It is so great to notice how those who accepted the gift of our friend­ship grew up! They became places where one can be com­forted, places where life spreads. Yet, con­sid­ering these mir­a­cles, we still ask these painful ques­tions: “Why are such fam­i­lies so rare in the neigh­bor­hood?” “Why did we manage to build a friend­ship with this very family and not with the others?” “Why was Mary the one to be freed, while so many other women still lead a life of vice?”

Bethany, where mercy brings gratitude

Jesus’ encounter with Mary is so inti­mate that we could find it aston­ishing that it hap­pened in public. Comments must have been made and not only by Judas. However, apart from Mary’s atti­tude, ges­tures or gaze, some­thing inef­fable, that no one can under­stand is hap­pening. And that is the main thing. No one, indeed, can under­stand Jesus’ mercy on Mary, and her grat­i­tude towards Him. No one can under­stand this secret, because Mary only knows the extent of her sins, and also that Jesus knows even more about them. Mary only can feel the joy that Jesus is giving to her, because she was the only one to know how dark her heart was. Mary receives more than for­give­ness. She mys­te­ri­ously lets Jesus love her. So God’s peace, truth and light can dwell in her, like a kind of trans­fu­sion of strength to per­form her mis­sion. She knows so much about her sins so as to under­stand that such a gift is totally free. Actually, she con­siders her­self as the most sinful of all those pre­sent. The com­mit­ment of all the mis­sion­aries in Heart’s Home is the answer to a call. Many people who are looking for a job, who love chil­dren or are inter­ested in human­i­tarian works want to join us. We receive more and more appli­ca­tions. But, in the end, none of them will actu­ally join one of our com­mu­ni­ties. Those who commit them­selves are those who, what­ever their diplomas and com­pe­ten­cies or even their desires, have received Jesus’ glance. “Jesus looked upon him and loved him”. They are those who heard: “Go!” Why these ones? Why not the others? This is the secret of God’s choice. This call heard by the mis­sion­aries, just like the mer­ciful look of Jesus upon Mary, their com­mit­ment in Heart’s Home, their faith­ful­ness to their mis­sion are like gifts. It is only in praying that we become aware that Jesus loves us freely, because it is only in praying that we dis­cover how sinful we are. “I’m really sick”. And this becomes evi­dent: “I deserve no credit for being a mis­sionary. God chose me. That’s all.” It’s the same for a monk, who suf­fers from being so sinful, and at the same time mar­vels at God’s mercy, and says, “I’m really the last of the last to be made for monastic life!” As we dis­cover our neigh­bors’ lives, their trials and suf­fer­ings, we are more pro­foundly con­vinced that we do not deserve the blessing of their friend­ship. God really loves us for free. There is no doubt about that. In Heart’s Home, despite all our times of dark­ness, weari­ness, or dis­cour­age­ment, we see every new day as a blessing, a time of wonder. “I’m able to adore! I’m priv­i­leged to serve the small and the poor! I dis­cover, in playing with the chil­dren and giving them my time for free, that God loves me for free! This mis­sion is too great for me, a poor sinner!”

Bethany, where one loves freely

In Bethany, Jesus knows that His hour is close. And Mary may also feel that some­thing is going to happen to Him. So she cares more about Him, she looks at Him with more love than ever. Each of His words is a trea­sure for her. She is totally open to His love, just like a chalice. She could get upset or take the floor to defend her Master, but she stays there, sit­ting at His feet. Behaving in such a way, she is preparing for Jesus’ Passion and death. Yet, she will be moved by the sen­tence and shat­tered by the death of her Master. But what would she under­stand, how would she react to these events if, six days before the Passover, she had not been there with a heart of grat­i­tude, weeping at His feet, pouring per­fume on Him? She may have been as dis­tressed as Judas and hanged her­self. Every day, the mis­sion­aries need to spend some time in Bethany, because they need the friend­ship of Lazarus, Mary and Martha to go on. If they want their mis­sion to remain a con­tin­uous ‘washing of the feet’, they need to remember the mercy of God, who chose them, had mercy on them and sent them. And, above all, they need to stay there for a long time, doing nothing but being close to their Master, so that, in the after­noon, they can remain very close to Jesus cru­ci­fied and dis­fig­ured. If we fail to stop in Bethany, we won’t be able to under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the Passion. And revolt will take over from ado­ra­tion, struggle will take over from com­pas­sion. If the mis­sion­aries did not stop every day in Bethany on their way to Golgotha, their mis­sion would not be the­o­log­ical work any more, and they would soon see it as purely social work, just like those who ignore its ‘ver­tical’ dimen­sion. It is only in spending a long time con­tem­plating Him, and Him only, that the mis­sion­aries will realize that “what they do to the smallest, they do to Him”. Contemplating the face of Jesus in the host helps us to see God’s face behind the face of our friends. This very con­vic­tion is the source of great dig­nity for our mis­sion, which could other­wise be con­sid­ered as worth­less. A time of ado­ra­tion is a waste of time! And this expen­sive per­fume a waste of money! Why weeping for con­tri­tion and grat­i­tude? As if God needed so many tears to save us! Judas is not judging according to love; that is why he will soon deliver up his Master to the exe­cu­tioners. Mary behaves according to other cri­teria, which Jesus con­siders as valu­able. The mis­sion­aries try to live in the same way as Mary of Magdala, that is to say according to faith and love. The time lost in ado­ra­tion is saved for the Church. The spilled per­fume is a balm to heal the broken hearts of the poor. The use­less tears are useful to reveal the beauty of every person. Without love, the cross is unbear­able. It stands for revolt, crisis, and doesn’t make any sense. The mis­sion­aries, whose mis­sion is to stay with inno­cent cru­ci­fied people, need to con­tem­plate Love and to listen deeply to the words of mercy of their Master. It is not an addi­tive to their mis­sion; it is a true neces­sity for them and for all those who come close to Golgotha. If the mis­sion­aries forgot to follow Mary’s atti­tude, deluding them­selves on the sense of their mis­sion, or always being in a hurry, they would soon go crazy. Their lives would cease making sense. And the Heart’s Homes would become Gehennas, where many a Judas would be found hanged, because of despair and wrath. Avoiding Bethany is the best way to get lost, along with all those who rely on us. May all com­pas­sionate hearts spend quality time in Bethany on their way to the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem. This is the place where they will find the Secret and the Source of their mis­sion.

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