So far, we have discovered a superweapon in our choice to ask the OTHER person to be OUR friend, and we have thought about our human need to be recognized and valued. Now it's time to think about how these two ideas meet to form our mission.
We are here to UNDERSTAND, RECOGNIZE, ADDRESS AND PREVENT spiritual starvation.
Spiritual starvation. If physical starvation means "suffering or death caused by hunger" (Merriam-Webster), then spiritual starvation means suffering or death caused by... what, exactly?
Let's see how physical hunger is different from spiritual hunger.
-Physical hunger is usually obvious, with physical symptoms... whereas spiritual hunger is not always noticeable, even by people who are spiritually hungry.
-Physical hunger can be relieved in the absence of others, so long as a person obtains food. Spiritual hunger cannot. Even if you make the argument that a person can feed their spiritual needs by faith in God, that right there points to the necessity of another - a Divine Other, if you will. The hungry soul cannot relieve its need alone.
-Physical hunger can be relieved with any kind of food. Feeding spiritual hunger requires personalized thought and attention. We all have the same basic need to be known and loved, but that can never be mass produced and distributed like bags of grain. Some starving souls might hunger for someone to listen to them. Others might need to BE the listeners to people who will take on the burden of doing the talking. Others might be very intimidated by touch or eye contact, so they need a special formula to show you consistently remember them, value them and are genuinely pleased they exist -- without overpowering them with friendliness or giving up when they don't respond enthusiastically. Spiritual nutrition is as individual as every person, whether one has an autism diagnosis or not.
-You can mask physical hunger only so long before your body becomes too weak to keep up the façade. Spiritually hungry people can hide their need for years without being detected, yet continue deteriorating. Truly, how can we readily spot things like loneliness, distrust, self-loathing, shyness, sadness, longing, smoldering resentment, or loss of hope?
Bottom line: Prolonged hunger cannot go on for long periods of time without great harm – physical, or spiritual.
By now, it is obvious why The Mission of Saint Thorlak cannot operate like the missions to feed the physically hungry.
A soup kitchen approach is excellent for nourishing people with good food. But we cannot think that starving souls can be fed by standing in lines to step up and receive affirmation, even if it is given lovingly and sincerely.
We cannot hold "friendship collection drives" at weekend church services. We can't hit up our friends to donate a can or two from their pantries and feel satisfied that we have filled a grocery bag for the food pantry.
Monetary donations won't do much for us, either.
Folks: we need CONTEMPLATION: Contemplative PRAYER and contemplative ACTION.
The only effective way to feed spiritually hungry people is to give them what they need from OUR OWN spiritual inventory.
This is why it is so crucial for Missionaries of Saint Thorlak to be aware of their own needs: so that they can have a rich spiritual reservoir available for those they encounter.
Stumbling block: What if we don't have excess in our reservoirs? What if we barely have enough ourselves? What if we have no idea what we're doing? How will we get what hungry souls need, never mind have enough to share?
(Too bad... only two or three people in the world have that kind of spiritual life, and I'm certainly not one of them...)
Ah! But wait! Don't you see? THE PEOPLE WE APPROACH have it! For us!
(Say that again?)
Quick! Stay with us! Look! That person right over there, that spiritually hungry person. The one who may or may not have autism – right now, that’s not important. That person is human, right?
And, so are you?
Great! We've got all we need!
Because, as you engage them to see what they need, they fill YOUR store.
Not only that alone, but if you do it with faith, with a quick prayer to Our Lord Jesus, to see Him in that person and to let that person see Him in you... it's in the bag! Because, when two or more are gathered in Jesus' Name, He becomes present... and He fills everyone's cups to the top, and flowing over. *
Now you've got plenty... for you, for them, and even leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.
Good job! You just stitched together the first two Missionary Thoughts. Chew on them this week, and then see what we're serving up next.
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*this is another of St. Thorlak’s secret superweapons… reminding others that Jesus is present wherever two or more are gathered in His name. Read about it in the Saga of Bishop Thorlak, page 7.
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