Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Unexpected Encounters

Perhaps as Christians one of the most important questions we need to keep asking ourselves every day is where is Christ in our daily life? It is especially important because I’m not sure the answer is always obvious.

To be in Rome is to see how so many people have put so much incredible work and resources into building, decorating and maintaining many, many magnificent churches. Huge basilicas and even smaller neighborhood churches are intense displays of florid baroque art and architecture, the fruit of many people’s attempt to demonstrate their love of God and the Church.

It was a great gift to be part of many liturgies in these churches, to celebrate the presence of God in these places of beauty and history.

But in the midst of such beauty and expressions of worship another experience kept coming back to me and hasn’t left me alone.

We were staying with the Missionary Benedictine sisters in Rome a little way away from the more touristy areas. We would occasionally have afternoons off and I would walk along the bus route to a commercial area a few miles away. At one particular rather deserted intersection I was surprised to see a couple of women who appeared to be African. They were standing in this little used spot on the road, near some bushes, one with a parasol and both wearing clothes that would get them turned away from most churches. I admit I’ve been in Cottonwood a little too long because it took me a while to figure out that they were prostitutes.

I never spoke to them, I suspect we had neither a common language nor a common reality, so I simply smiled every time I walked by.

But the experience hasn’t left me. Is Christ present in the glorious, baroque churches and liturgies of Rome? Absolutely. But is he also present in the midst of women who are far from their homes with no options to support themselves except on street corners? Absolutely. Christ is present in the least of people as well as in the greatest buildings and liturgies.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is. Perhaps just that the real presence of Christ is not only in the sacrifice of the Mass but also in the most rejected and despised of society. Jesus didn’t just invite the nice people to his table, he invited all of us, and none of us is worthy. An unexpected encounter on a street corner in Rome was a good reminder for me to ask myself where I am seeing Christ and who I am inviting to my table.

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