“Here I Am Lord” has always been one of my favorite songs, ever since the first time I heard it. At the end of each verse, we hear God’s question, “Whom Shall I Send” and the response we sing is “Here I am Lord.” God is sending each one of us to speak his words, and to show his love to those around us.
At the Palm Sunday Mass, we read the Passion of Christ, which includes the story of Simon helping Jesus carry his cross.
Although we may never do a task like the one asked of Simon, we are called to love our neighbor. Every day we are presented with opportunities to show that love and help them “carry their cross.” These opportunities may be as simple as giving an elderly neighbor a ride to Mass, praying with a family member or sending a sympathy card to a friend. The key is putting the other person’s needs before our own and not expecting anything in return.
It’s easy to do things for the people we know and love – those who know us and love us will appreciate what we are doing to help them. But what about the people we are not helping? It is important for us to ask ourselves who are the people we exclude, the people we forget, the people we ignore and overlook.
There is not much information about Simon of Cyrene in the Bible. The whole story is told in one fairly short verse “As they were going out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.” (Matthew 27:32). I can’t imagine that Simon was very pleased about helping a poor, homeless, itinerant preacher who claimed to be God. Simon was “pressed into service.” He certainly did not volunteer.
How many times are we given opportunities to serve God without being “pressed into service?” How many times do we ignore opportunities to become a companion to the stranger; the foreigner; the outcast; the sinner; the victim; the little ones; the forgotten ones, the ones who are grief-stricken; the ones who are sick; the ones with disabilities; and people who have a life that’s very different from our own?
The ability to recognize God in every individual person and to recognize every individual in God draws us into a state of unity with each other and with God. Because we know, as Christians, that all of us are formed in the image of God, loving our neighbor unifies us with God. Every act of union with others, understood in this light, becomes an act of communion with God; an action in which we transmit and reflect the love with which God loves us.
It is a simple fact that we cannot live and exist well independently of others, because we are interdependent beings. This interdependence is something good, something positive, a thing to be cherished. It simply requires us to treat each other as brothers and sisters – even the people we would prefer to ignore and avoid.
For Christians, we have a unique bond that links all human beings with God, through the life of Jesus as God and man. And we can take that statement a step further and say that this unity is also at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic. We share companionship through our faith in Jesus Christ with millions of our Catholic brothers and sisters, who gather as we do, to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the Eucharistic banquet.
The image Saint Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that we are all individual parts that together make up the Body of Christ. This union with others runs backwards and forwards through time, linking us not only with the other people who are alive at this moment but also with all past and future generations. It is the principle and value that causes us to care about the slave trade in the 18th century, the impact of floods on the people of Pakistan in 2010 and about the effect of climate change on our children and grandchildren.
Unity is the virtue and the practice underlying the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. (Matthew 10:40-42, 20:25; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:25-27) Jesus demonstrates over and over again the connection between the hungers of the human body and the hungers of our human heart.
Through Jesus we begin to see with the eyes of faith the interactive dynamic between our experience of the Eucharist and our experiences of unity. In the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup, God draws us into the heart of the world and sets us in relationship to one another.
During World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro, pope Francis said:
“No one, can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world. Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices. The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”
Each of us has the power of choice: we can follow in the ways of God’s love and mercy or to pursue the paths of self-centeredness and self-absorption. The choices we make about actually living in communion with others, especially those who are not like us, measure our integrity as a Eucharistic people.