There is a study that gets cited in Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect. He tells the story of theology students who were given the assignment to give a talk on Prodigal Son. Each of the students then had to walk to the place where they were going to deliver the talk. Unbeknownst to them, a person who would appear to be in dire need was placed along the way. There were three groups for the experiment. One group had plenty of time, and more often than not, they tended to stop and help the person. The second group was going to be just in time, and the number who stopped for the person decreased. The third group was running late, and this group rarely stopped.
This study highlights one of the major issues that all of us must face. Often our lives are filled with such hustle and bustle that we fail to see the people who are in need of our time, attention, and perhaps our affection. Perhaps we need to go out of our way to help those who are hungry, those who go without the good things that many of us enjoy. Perhaps simply giving over some of precious time to someone in friendship is the answer to doing God’s will in the present.
In the first reading for this Sunday’s Mass, we hear the Prophet Isaiah proclaim:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own (Isaiah 58:7-9)
Thus, paying attention to people in need is not just a nice idea that we can entertain when we have more time, it needs to be an important expression of Christian love. This is at the heart of the Christian message. In our need, we have received incredible things from the Lord. Having received, we are now called to share. When we have Christ’s love for us in our thoughts and desires, we learn to be open to others around us who are suffering and in need.
Through our needs, we learn to recognize the hunger in others as well. This hunger can ultimately not be satisfied by merely superficial means. The things of this world are important, and we must help cultivate the conditions necessary for all people to share in the abundance of the created world. However, we must also recognize that the human heart desires much more than simply material goods. The human heart longs for the rest and harmony created through unconditional love. When our lives become centered on Christ, we are transformed and become conduits for that unconditional love.
In this way, we become manifestations of the unconditional love of Christ. This is the science of the saints. Not that our love is perfect, or that we are superior to others based on natural abilities. The mark of the saint is not that they have mastered the spiritual life through their own efforts, but rather that they learned the art of depending completely on God. In this way, the saint constantly is aware of the mystery of Christ’s love, and how that love is a gift that cannot be earned but received. In this way, we are saints when we learn to receive everything that God has to offer with complete abandonment.
Today, let us practice a two-fold receptivity. First, let us focus on receiving everything from the Father with an open disposition. Second, let us be attentive to the needs of others, so that we might be conduits of God’s unconditional love.