"The immediate needs of those around me are to be known and loved… to be noticed and appreciated."
Here’s what. Objective #2 of the Mission of Saint Thorlak will not always translate into outward action. It would be very difficult to imagine approaching someone with an outstretched hand, saying to them, “Hello! I notice you, and I love you!”
(Please… do not do this.)
What, then? This: The Mission of Saint Thorlak is a contemplative approach to ordinary life. This means, the majority of our Mission work is accomplished within each of us before we ever set foot outside our doors. This is purposeful for several reasons simultaneously:
The first four objectives all begin with the same purpose: To make people aware. Awareness is a personal, individual experience, synonymous with concepts such as recognition, interest, realization and perception. It is at the core of mindfulness, with which many of us are already familiar as a practice that increases focus, decreases anxiety and gives us a greater sense of being present in the moment. Those of us who pray experience awareness at different levels of participation in prayer. Reciting memorized prayers can be mindful or mindless, depending on how much attention we give the words and allow our interior sight to gaze upon what they mean. Likewise, conversation – either with someone else or in prayer with God – can be a mindless wandering into our own thoughts or can be a dynamic experience of engaging with the thoughts of the other.
The Mission of Saint Thorlak must begin with awareness, or else what we do moving forward is meaningless. It is the difference between social skills classes completed for a row of gold stars or a doorway to true connection when we encounter others.
Awareness that the person in front of us has the same need we do (that is, to be known for who we are and loved because of it) changes everything. This is a step above mindfulness. This is missionary awareness: being aware for the purpose of changing life for the better.
Imagine being told that someone today will hand us a large sum of money, but we can’t know who it will be. Think of how different everyone will look to us. Think of how carefully we will attempt eye contact, and proximity, and our most pleasant demeanor. We act much differently than the way we behaved yesterday, even with many of the same people. That is a function of awareness. We are showing greater awareness and attempting to increase our awareness that much more.
Imagine someone in our life who irritates us for one reason or another. The prevailing social climate encourages us to dismiss people who are aggravating, or worse, to call them a derogatory label. This, no matter how mild or meaningless it seems at the time, is dehumanization. “My brother is a pest” and “You voters are morons” are equally dehumanizing statements. All kinds of those words end up in our daily vocabulary, even the ones we think are cute. Even the most passionate community motivators among us may end up using dehumanizing words. Worst of all, many people believe these terms are justified for use based on their victim’s unpopular words or actions.
The Mission of Saint Thorlak asks only for awareness. Be aware. Be aware that each person, the ones we call by their given names and the ones we call by derogatory names alike, have the same needs we do: to be known and loved.
Go as far back as we can in our memories, to our most vulnerable and innocent times. That is when our needs were right on top. We can likely think of occasions when those needs were met, good measure and overflowing… and also when they were violated by someone who was thoughtless, cruel or unaware of what we needed.
That person in front of you has those needs. That person was once that child, too.
That person STILL IS that child, now older. People don’t morph into different people when they reach different ages. Those needs are still the same. We do not reach an age where our humanity ceases.
If we wish to battle disconnection, we need a missionary awareness of how it happens. Thus, our first two objectives:
And… it is need’s knock which opens doors – whether our own, allowing others to know us, or the doors of others, to greet us in kind.
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