Early in my spiritual journey, I frequently read how important it was to see Christ in others. In particular, I admired Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who saw Christ “in the disguise of the poor.”
Try as I might (and surely it was due to a prideful disposition), I was unable to picture Christ in anyone’s disguise. It was impossible for my imagination to make the leap toward seeing Christ in mere mortals whom I could hardly like, much less love. The only solution, I reasoned, was that I must behave in such a way that they could see Christ in me.
One of my “ministries” was to visit an elderly neighbor, a survivor of Auschwitz. The strength of her character and ready sense of humor balanced her physical fragility and her constant memory of sufferings in that brutal place. Little by little, my visits became more frequent as I learned her history and relished her love of laughter. Many times, in my own loneliness, I would run over to her house, sometimes with a loaf of homemade bread, and find consolation in her company.
And little by little, my sense of performing a mitzvah with its almost imperceptible grain of condescension, like Jack Horner’s Oh, what a good girl am I!, was being transformed by the honest affection of this woman. I no longer had to picture Christ in her so that I could love her. I saw her as lovable in herself. There was no edifying kind of play-acting or imagination necessary. She poured her love into me, and Christ became visible in that love.
Thus does God gently open us to the mystery of how to love. Even I, who had gone through life holding herself off to the side, coolly observing others, was taught that Christ would respond to my clumsy efforts with an ever-warming spirit. I was taught the truth of the Gospel in the prayer of St. Francis, that it is in giving that we receive; it is in loving that we are loved.