On the Healing Power of Service

When I was coming of age in the Catholic church, one of the philosophies that occasionally showed up in mass or in school was the idea of personalism. Broadly speaking – the concept has been around for a long time – Pope John Paul II argued that people – the individual – was to be loved and respected, without qualification or equivocation. He was building off one of Vatican II’s more moving documents, Gaudium et spes, which stated that a human being could not “find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

The implication was clear – we are here to love and serve one another. I saw the manifestation of that ideal most clearly and radically in the men and women who identified as Catholic workers. Dorothy Day remains an inspiration. But I do not think the concept is uniquely Catholic. Indeed, any student of A Course in Miracles ought to recognize the sentiment.

When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself. Whenever two Sons of God meet, they are given another chance at salvation. Do not leave anyone without giving salvation to him and receiving it yourself.

If we are clear that Christ is the other – be it our partner, our child, our student, our co-worker, somebody we pass on the street, somebody in another country – then what can’t we do for and with them?

In study groups and in dialogue with other students, we often run into the “world is not real” block. A lot of students – me too sometimes – really love this because it is sort of exonerating. Who cares how indifferent we are to one another? The world isn’t real anyway!

But you see, our experience of the world does matter. We are all of us in it – you reading, me writing – and we have to see that, not hide from it. We are in the dream and the way out begins with seeing clearly that it is a dream. And then within the confines of that dream, we begin to practice the clear-eyed and radical love contemplated by Jesus in the course. All encounters are holy. Thus, we are all holy. When we make another as welcome as Christ, then we are really welcoming Christ in our own heart, our own life.

It is a way of saying that the kind and loving gestures we perceive as our own – a hug, a cookie, a respectful silence, whatever – is always just the movement of love. It is less that we are doing something than that we are simply stepping into – acknowledging as real – the flow of love. Christ – which is Love – is never not with us, never not accessible. But we have dammed up the works pretty good. Our lovingkindness here in the world, here in the dream, is what undoes the blocks.

It’s true that the course text is largely silent on the question of behavior – something the Catholic catechism is emphatically not! So we can dedicate our lives to service or not and it doesn’t throw Jesus for even the smallest of loops. Yet it is perhaps worth asking  what you would not do for the one who brings you salvation? What gift would you not give?

The world hurts and we hurt in it. We are lonely. We are scared. Some of us are hungry, or targeted by violence, or lost on the social and cultural margins. That hell is not out there – it is inside you. Love it with all your heart – act it out right there in the dream. Why not? Why wait?

In the gospel of John Jesus said to his followers, “ye must be born again.” And the world is still waiting! We are still waiting. It is not the world that has to change but ourselves. It is the unhealed mind that must be offered to the Holy Spirit. Each moment – each person – offers anew the chance to be reborn into the Love that knows no differences and brooks no ill.

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