In November as I sat in a Newark airport at a crowded gate, across from me was a dark-skinned man in a turban, a Sikh. Suddenly he left. When he reappeared, he was pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair, which he parked by me. Her husband sat on the other side of the empty chair beside me. The four of us chatted, and I gestured to the Sikh that he sit in the empty chair. He shook his head, probably because he was thoughtfully leaving it for someone else. Shortly, a Black woman dressed elegantly for a funeral sat in the chair.
The woman in the wheelchair asked the Sikh if he were a doctor. He was. She said she thought so because of his kindness. He explained that in his religion when someone was in need, you must act to help. It has to be so much a part of you that you don’t think twice. You respond spontaneously. And then you don’t reflect on your good deed later, or you will get a swelled ego! Boarding the plane, I glanced back and the Sikh gave me a thumbs-up.
Now if I were alone in an elevator with a Sikh or met one on the sidewalk at night, I confess I might be afraid— a Sikh is so different from me, a Caucasian Roman Catholic Sister. As it turned out, the Sikh who crossed my path at the airport espoused the same moral guide as I do, the Golden Rule. He even enriched my understanding of it: act instantly and then forget it!
This group at the gate was a microcosm of the world, a mix of people that God would like to see in his kingdom. Every person is precious to him: the elderly and babies; healthy and sick; black, brown, and white. How God must wish we were all precious to one another!
Jesus preached about this kingdom of God that encompasses all, not only his people the Jews, but Gentiles. In this week’s Gospel, he is in Galilee, known as the land of the Gentiles (non-Jews). Galilean Jews with their northern accent were scorned by the Judeans, who even had an expression “as stupid as a Galilean.” When the apostle Nathanael heard about Jesus, he remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Even in his human origins, Jesus aligned himself with marginalized people.
When Jesus lived, Rome oppressed the Jews in Israel, yet he befriended Roman centurions. When traveling, Jews skirted around Samaria because they considered the Samaritans enemies, yet Jesus walked through it and coaxed a woman of ill repute and her neighbors to believe in him. Lepers and people with disabilities were shunned because it was thought their condition was the result of their sins, yet Jesus cured them. And he treated sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes with kindness.
The apostles were called and entrusted with promoting this all-inclusive kingdom of God as Jesus did. Today this responsibility is ours. We are called to fish for people and welcome them into God’s family. We are to cast our nets to those in prisons, halfway houses, slums, hospitals, and other countries. We are to reach out to those who are different from us, those who are estranged from us, those we are afraid of—and even those we think don’t like us! If all Christians did this, if all Americans did this, imagine how different our daily news would be.
After my encounter with the Sikh, I wished to adopt his way of immediate kindness as a principle for my life. I don’t usually act promptly when I see a need. Instead I reflect on all angles of the situation: Should I do this? What will people think? Does the person want me to act? Is there someone else who would do it? Then sometimes while I am hesitating, someone else acts and my opportunity to do a good deed is lost.
When have you observed a person “acting without thinking” for someone’s benefit?
BOOK REVIEW: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World
Pope Francis Loyola Press, $18.95
This is an utterly delightful book. Jesuits ministering in twenty-six countries asked children to write a letter with a question to Pope Francis and draw a picture to accompany it. When these letters were presented to the Pope, Antonio Spadaro, S.J. transcribed his answers. T
The format of Dear Pope Francis is attractive. Each left hand page has a sidebar showing a photo of the child; his or her name, age, and country; and a typed version of the question asked. The rest of the page is a copy of the child’s original letter and drawing. On the facing page is the Holy Father’s typed answer. Sometimes as he answers a question, he refers to the drawing.
The children’s questions are fundamental: “Can our deceased relatives see us?” personal: “When you were a child, did you like dancing?” or poignant: “Do you know why some parents argue with each other?” The Pope’s answers are thoughtful and charming, simple and yet profound. It is as though he is dealing with the child face-to-face.
The book concludes with the story of Fr. Spadaro’s meeting with Pope Francis to gather his responses to the children’s letter.
The hardcover book would appeal to both children and adults.