A few weeks ago I spent my day off with another priest. For lunch we bought some sandwiches and beverages, and found a park where we had an informal picnic. A few yards away from us, two small children were having a great time playing on the grass, laughing, and enjoying each other. I assumed they were related or that their parents were friends. At one point, though, their mothers came to collect them, and when they arrived at the spot where the boys were playing, they introduced themselves to each another. I was surprised that they didn’t know each other, and that the boys weren’t friends or relatives. It then occurred to me that such is the innocence of youth. When we are young, we don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about others. We don’t have to know much about them to interact with them and enjoy their company.
As we move along the road of life, though, at some point things change. We move from a childlike openness to people we don’t know, to being suspicious of them and/or their motives. On the one hand, there is some merit to this. If we naively assume that everyone is good and kind and nice, we are going to be disappointed, and even hurt. On the other hand, though, when we lose an openness to others, we can fail to see them as God sees them—as a beloved son or daughter.
It seems to me that we need to strike a balance between these two approaches. More importantly, in trying to find this balance we need to be willing to err on the side of love. In our world today there is much that can cause us to be suspicious and even anxious. And sometimes without even realizing it, and without it becoming a conscious choice, these feelings can move into animosity and hatred. At these times, we need to remember that in the parable of the last judgement, (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus taught us that He is to be found in every encounter we have with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy, the stranger, and the forgotten. We may not recognize him, but he is there.
Recognizing the presence of Christ in others is a challenge. In my own life I fail at it more often than I succeed. We need to remember, though, that God created us in God’s image and likeness, and because of this, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God—no exceptions, no exclusions, no omissions. If we allow ourselves to be guided by our better angels and if we are open to God’s grace, I believe we are more apt to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. And if we are able to do this with others, maybe, just maybe, others might recognize the presence of Christ in us.