There is a story about Saint Francis of Assisi going down to the village with one of the monks. Their purpose was to preach the Gospel. Arriving, they quickly engaged the local folk in conversation and spent their time helping the villagers with their work, sharing stories, and entering into the community’s life. As the end of the day drew near, Francis said to Brother Juniper that it was time for them to return to the monastery. As they were leaving, the Brother said to Francis with great concern, “Didn’t we come here to preach the Gospel to these people? When are we going to do that?” Francis turned to his brother monk and said, “If these people have not heard the Gospel today, then reading from the Bible will not make any difference to them!” The letter of James states it most plainly [James 1:22]: But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. I think what James is saying is that our very lives are a sermon. Our actions always speak louder than our words.
The founder of the Institute I belong to, Voluntas Dei (the Will of God), Father Louis-Marie Parent, laid out in his formulation of our spirituality some steps that I think can help all of us become both hearers and doers of the word. You can’t do what you don’t know. If you don’t listen, you can’t know. Listening requires being aware of the one speaking. That’s the first step – Awareness of the Presence of God.
In Genesis 28:16, Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it! How aware of God’s presence are we? Is it limited to being in church or when we are praying? We are all made to the image and likeness of God. Whenever we’re in the company of another person, no matter their race, creed, or way of life, we are in the presence of God. Yet, how frequently do we allow our critical and complaining attitudes to block that awareness? We criticize what we don’t understand and complain about what we perceive as a lack of perfection. James, in his letter, gives a good example. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in. You pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? [James 2:2-4]
If we are going to be fully aware of God’s presence, we must avoid useless criticism and complaint. Only then can we be mindful of God’s presence in our midst.
Once we are truly aware of his presence, then we can become available to others. That is the real miracle of Christianity: In our neighbor, we have Christ at our doorstep, to be the object of our love. Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone deserves our respect and encouragement. No one can be excluded, for if we exclude even one person from our love, we are excluding God.
Living this way makes us true peacemakers. Not ignoring the fact that there are wars and conflicts, but through our actions and love of others offering everyone we meet the invitation to true peace: People Everywhere Accepting Christ’s Embrace.