Missionary Thought for the Week of April 24, 2017: Love Makes Impossible Tasks Possible (Continued).
A quick recap from last week: “Love,” for our purposes, means CARITAS: An over-arching regard for the care and well-being of others.
People acting from “love” often do heroic things, on small and large scale alike. Inconvenient favors are somehow easily offered to friends in need. Our willingness to look silly increases with the degree to which we hope to gain another person’s affections. The Good Samaritan in each of us ignores rules, drops everything and offers help when someone has a sudden and urgent need.
When it comes to people with autism, the same principles apply... only, we know it takes a degree of heroic motivation just to navigate the ordinary interactions.
Heroic? Yes, we think so. Living with autism is intense. Emotions are amplified, sensations are overwhelming and isolation sometimes feels necessary. For a person who finds eye contact distressing, speaking painful and interactions exhausting, greeting another person is a corner quickly cut in the name of “I’ll do it another time because I need to recharge right now.”
We know you do. We know the confusion, the longing to think more and speak less, the way your heart races when someone looks you directly in the eye, the embarrassment you feel without knowing why. It is very reasonable to want space in solitude and the freedom to “be” without having to rehearse rules you don’t always understand or believe necessary.
But, as impossible as it is to rise above these challenges in everyday situations, we also feel that love… CARITAS… can make it possible.
CARITAS by itself is a nice goal, but it might seem a little off in the distance. Maybe even a long way. Lofty. Abstract. Idealistic. Maybe you have a general sense of good will toward others but are not ready to act on it yet. Maybe you want to feel that way but find it too difficult. Maybe your anxiety is still too strong.
This is where “MISSION” comes into play.
Why are we the “Mission” of Saint Thorlak, and not, say, the “Society,” or “Ministry,” of Saint Thorlak?
The Online Etymology Dictionary can help clear that up. The earliest use of the word mission referred to an act of sending; a dispatching; an act of release or letting go.
We don’t simply ponder things; we ponder them to act on them. We first gain understanding, then accept the call to employ what we’ve pondered. Contemplative prayer + Contemplative action = Mission.
The very definition of CARITAS requires us to deliberately act in order to realize it, covering the sending and dispatching part.
What about releasing or letting go?
We might say we release ourselves from our hesitation and let go of our fear in the name of CARITAS because we choose to be more concerned about the spiritual nourishment and well-being of others than our dread of discomfort, looking silly, making mistakes or forgetting rules.
The CARITAS of St. Thorlak is like a manual override switch we can activate each time we make even the smallest gesture in the name of our Mission – which then empowers us to take that different route. Instead of avoiding the usual anxieties, hesitations, difficulties and reservations we have about interacting with others, we head straight into them, ready to welcome the discomfort and the consequences! Why? Because we aren’t just acting as ourselves anymore. We are acting in the name of our Mission, which shifts our interest from ourselves to the welfare of others. We become more interested in putting an end to spiritual starvation than avoiding distress.
In sum: We aren’t just practicing pro-social behavior to earn praise from our teachers and acceptance from our peer group. No! We are on a MISSION of CARITAS! Specifically: to understand, recognize, address and prevent spiritual starvation among people we pass day after day. By doing this, we feed our own souls from the same bread of friendship we offer… and, as we ourselves are nourished and strengthened, those impossible tasks become even more possible.
Love (CARITAS) empowers us do things we would never ordinarily do. Even when autism screams that we can’t. Even if autism makes us look impossible to reach.
Love makes impossible tasks possible.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak