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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Go With Him the Extra Mile

"Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles." (Matt. 5:41)

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus thought about Simon helping him to carry his Cross at the moment when he said that statement during his Sermon on the Mount.

What is brewing in my heart is the figurative "carrying of the cross." This is directly linked with some meditation on the Scripture concerning Our Lady: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). Mary, from the early moments of the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit, finds herself the keeper of something special.

I wish there were words to express how I understand this. Analogously, she was given a garden to tend, a special, secret place, set aside from the eyes of the world. She was the guardian and protector of that little piece of land, and her charge was to keep it safe and to bring forth fruit. She tilled the soil and watered the ground as best she could, until she began to see the fruit of her labor springing up. And then when that fruit was ripened, she gave it away, that it might bring the nourishment to others that it was intended to give. She let go of something that she had spent years working on, caring for, guarding and tending, so that it could go and die. And in death, the seeds which were within it spread themselves far and wide, so that there was a rich harvest of new life brought forth from its death. And in that way, she saw the fulfillment of her work taking even greater measures than she could have hoped for when she first started to work. All of this, she kept in her heart. All of this work, growth and death, she witnessed with the eye of her mind and understood in the wisdom of her heart.

In the practical, Mary did experience what all pregnant women experience, which is a unique understanding of allowing life to grow within you, a life that is intrinsically linked to your own, and inherently dependent on you, and yet... is absolutely separate. There is a mind and heart, a body, organs, blood running through veins that are not yours; yet, they can only be there because of your mind, heart, organs, blood and body. It is a strange balance of a deep bond that is still separated by two bodies. Even while Our Lady had the Son of God growing and developing in her womb, she knew how completely "his own" he was. Even while she scarified her public status, her physical comfort, her appetite, her previous freedoms, all for the sake of the little being inside of her, she also knew and understood that this being was not hers.

This understanding of the unity between the mother and the child, but also the true and real distinction, followed and continued to grow in her heart as her child was born and matured. The Son, who at one time could not live without her physical presence, would grow to be a man who was completely independent of her. It is the human condition. Yet, she kept these things and reflected on them in her heart. I think it is safe to say that even when Jesus was far from her, traveling, preaching, teaching, living an independent life, she still knew something of that interior sense of union that she knew while he was inside her womb. I think this is what it means to "keep someone in your heart." Presumably, the most unique or profound experience of this "keeping someone in your heart" is possible for a mother and child. But even for those who simply love someone else, this is possible.

It is the profound "holding someone in your heart," even if they do not know of your love, or do not want your love, or simply cannot appreciate your love, that is what I think of concerning "going the extra mile" with someone. Many people, really all people, suffer. Many, or all, of the people we know and are acquainted with will carry heavy burdens at one point or another. Perhaps we will be able to help them. Perhaps the circumstances will allow us to make them meals, send cards, spend time with them to help them cope, give them a hug, etc... Perhaps the circumstances will be that we are hundreds of miles away, and we really cannot be a physical presence to them in their time of sorrow. What then?

This is where we can still go another mile with them, even if it is only in our hearts. We can carry them within. We can lift and shoulder the burden with them by remembering them in our prayers. We can make sacrifices and offer penances for their sake. We can turn daily to the Lord with our petition, and present them to him for healing, consolation, mercy and love. We can say, in essence, "Lord, as long as I live, and as long as I breathe, let each breath be part of my prayer to you for that person, for his or her sake." We can bear them in our mind and heart as we go through our daily work. In each circumstance, whether it is a joyful one or a sorrowful one, we can thank God and petition him on their behalf.

Is this not what a mother has to do for her child? Is that not what it really means to live for someone else? To go another mile with anyone, be it a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child, a friend, or even a stranger, is to accept that the first thing we can do is to welcome that person into our hearts. Perhaps there are many other very real and physical things that we can do for that person. Perhaps there is nothing material or physical that we can do for that person. Either way, the first thing we must do is to take them into our hearts. There we can tend a little garden of empathy, of understanding, of patience, of mercy, of forgiveness, of prayer, of solidarity in suffering. There we can be a balm for the wound they bear, even if unknown to them.

We have to have faith, a faith that can bear fruit, so that what we bring into our hearts we offer to God for his cultivation. We have to imitate our Blessed Mother in bearing with her Son from the moment that his tiny body was growing within her until his body was pierced for us all on the Cross. Even there, her faith allowed her to hold the darkest of sufferings in her heart and to return it to God. And the seed that died bore such an abundant harvest! We have to believe that God can and will do good things with the prayers and petitions we offer, even if we never know about the fruit that comes from it.

Let us not be afraid, let us not even hesitate, to hold others in our hearts, and to go with them each mile that they need.