I remember learning a difficult lesson about sharing when I was a child. I was at my beloved maternal grandmother’s house for a meal, during which I took the last piece left on the serving platter. My grandmother quickly corrected me because I did not offer to share it with my brother. I was mortified because I loved her dearly and did not want to let her down in any way. However, the incident provided a valuable lesson mostly because in her correction she explained the reason sharing was so important. Although I do not remember her exact words, I know she said something about selfishness and that sharing was an act of love. When I got older the importance of sharing became clearer, especially as I realized that it is central to the message of Jesus. But it has also been my experience that all things are ‘improved’ when shared: food tastes better, material things offered to others are more satisfying, and experiences are wonderfully enhanced, all because the enjoyment is multiplied. Sharing is an act of love. Of course, the ultimate act of love was Jesus sharing Himself so fully that He poured out every last drop of His blood for us. The season of Lent, therefore, provides the opportunity to learn more deeply about love, and specifically the boundless, unfathomable love with which God loves us. In short, the heart of the message of Christ is that one must be willing to share everything; that is, to love without counting the cost.*
During Lent we are called to acts of greater almsgiving, prayer, and penance. But what we often overlook is that our sharing has to go to the next level if we are to enter into the challenge of the sacrificial love of Jesus. In other words, we need to be willing to enter into His suffering by sharing in the suffering of the people who are part of our lives, and no matter how briefly, of those we encounter but do not really know. It is good to share our goods with the poor via an agency or our church, but sharing is deeper when we actually become present to those in need, entering into their ‘world,’ letting their suffering become personal to us. It is also challenging to be attentive to the interior suffering of those who have the burden of bearing disease or serious woundedness, of those enduring a difficult situation, of those who can hardly cope because they are stressed and overwhelmed, or of those who are barely holding onto their faith. Until we share something of ourselves and accept what the other shares of him or herself, love is only on the surface and not fully in the heart.
The most difficult sharing involves entering into the pain of another. It is so much easier to share when someone is at arm’s length, that is, when we do not enter in, but remain as if a dispassionate observer. However, when we do enter into someone’s suffering, we take on an entirely different kind of sharing, the deepest kind of love, that is, compassion.** When we truly enter into the suffering of another, (sharing it), we make ourselves vulnerable, a risky undertaking. Indeed, love is risky, but when we share in this way, we often find a kind of healing in it; we cannot take suffering away, but when shared it is less of a burden simply because we care enough to enter in. Of course, this holds true for our own suffering: it is an act of love to allow someone to enter into it with us, too. Remember, even Jesus needed someone to help Him carry His cross to Calvary.
As we enter more deeply into Lent, the challenge is to recognize that the sacrifice we are called to is the sharing of our love and our gifts in order to help someone grow in wholeness. It means that we have to listen, to sacrifice time in which we could be doing something else, and to be patient, all while risking rejection if the person is not yet ready for someone to love them in this way. This type of sharing also means we have to be willing to forgive time after time because the path to wholeness is not always one that the other may understand. It is also something that may be subject to ridicule and questioning by those who are observers of our action. In short, helping another person come to wholeness and healing, as well as the act of sharing our own pain, involves risk. All love does.
Sharing our lives in love is a priceless gift to those whom we accompany, especially because our love brings them to Christ. Further, when we share our lives as Jesus did, we enter into His heart more fully, coming to more insight into the sacrifice He made when He went to the cross. The call is to realize that it is about more than giving up something for 40 days which we subsequently take up again, though those are real sacrifices and do have value. But the deeper Lenten sacrifice is to leave our comfort zone to immerse more deeply into the unfathomable love of God as we enter into Jesus’ suffering as experienced in the lives of our brothers and sisters; our prayer should be that our hearts are expanded permanently. Sharing in the sacrificial love of Christ is the call of all Christians, especially in this world of uncertainty. Indeed, it is at the heart of the message and of the life of Jesus.
May we ask Jesus to show us how to better accompany Him to the Cross and therefore, to holiness! May we learn more deeply the power of sharing through sacrificial love! And may our hearts be expanded and molded to be more like the Heart of Jesus! Let us meet on the road to the Cross upon which Love hung! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The following prayer about selfless giving, attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, is what I had in mind here: “Dear Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.”
** Compassion means to suffer with. It comes from compassio (Latin): com = with; passio =suffering.
1. My photo; a shared antipasto board, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy.
2. Painting, The Good Samaritan, by Vincent van Gogh.
3. Painting, Jesus Bearing the Cross, (Jésus chargé de la Croix, 1886-1894) by James Tissot. You can see Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus to bear the weight of the cross.
4. Photograph, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, (1901-1925). Bl. Pier Giorgio is an excellent example of one who gave without counting the cost. His selfless giving actually cost him his life when he contracted polio from a poor man he was aiding.
5. Icon, La Sangre de Cristo, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interesting in purchasing a copy, this icon can be found at fineartamerica.com/featured/la-sangre-de-cristo-242-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6. My photo; a trail road on Copper Mountain, Copper, Colorado.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart