Recognizing Jesus in all his forms
By Fr. Christianus Hendrik
It was during the first weekend of Advent, one of the coldest and windiest days in our area. I and my deacon were about ready for lunch when the phone rang. On the other end was a woman with a shaky voice.
“Father, I’m in dire need your help,” she said. “I have no place to go, I just ran from my boyfriend’s house because they’re all drunk and I’m afraid. Can I come to your house?”
When she mentioned her name, I realized that I knew her and her family. She used to be one of our altar servers. She is now 18 and has had struggles; she was a missing person a couple months ago. She should have been in school when she called.
“I’m pregnant, my family kicked me out; they burned all of my clothing and other possessions,” she said. “I have no place to stay.”
I told her that she could come. We gave her something to eat, and while she ate, I called a local law enforcement agency for emergency help. I was looking for a local women’s shelter, or some other type of shelter for people in crisis, a shelter for the abused. But none of the phone numbers I dialed brought us any closer to helping this person. They all came with the same words: “We don’t have a room available for the emergency, but we recommend that you call this number…”
I went around and around until I ended up back at the first number that I called. I felt like a ping-pong ball being bounced from one place to the next.
We drove her to the store to get some inexpensive clothes, food, and other basic needs. At the end of the day there was still no place for her to go safely. We cleaned a small room in our old office in the other building and gave her a blanket and pillow on the couch. I told her that she could stay there until the next day, and we would start again, trying to find her help.
I kept thinking of this during Advent and it troubled me. It still troubles me. I have a big empty house; but the laws, the rules, and the sense of “what is appropriate” forced me to also say, “You cannot stay in my house.” I felt like the innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph: “We don’t have a room available for you…” (Luke 2:7)
“In following Him, we must live in real solidarity with all.” (SCJ Rule of Life no.29)
I felt like I had failed. I failed to recognize Him in the greatest mystery of His solidarity with others in the form of this 18-year-old girl with a baby in her womb.
I ended up with my knees on the floor in the middle of the night: “Lord, I did the best that I could do. She is Yours. I know that there are many jackals and predators out there. Please protect her and guide her as you did Mary and Joseph.”
That night, I decided to approach her family and talked with her grandfather about what was going on. Thankfully, we were eventually able to reconcile her with the family. It was almost midnight when I and the deacon drove her back to her family’s house. There was a good atmosphere when I talked face-to-face with the family.
As Advent is a time for reflection, Christmas is a time for redemption, and a New Year is a time for a renewal; it is perfectly fitting to reflect on our life in the light of this greatest mystery of Solidarity. The Word became flesh to be with us, sinners. When we go deeper into our heart, do we have a small room for Him who comes in the form of our brothers and sisters who are in dire need of our help?
Once God sent his Son to be in solidarity with us, the Liberating One now dwells among us, calling upon hearts from all walks of life to open, to take courage, to soften, to release. God takes on flesh and joins life in the struggle – this is what radical solidarity feels like. Lives and souls and bodies entangled. Risks and possibilities shared.
There is no real solidarity until we turn ourselves into “a shepherd that smells like the sheep” (Pope Francis). We are challenged to be “one of them” in their struggles, feeding them, guiding them, protecting them from dangerous predators, and sometimes from their own stupidity. We must be there when they are injured; and when they are sick, nursing them back to health.
Fr. Hendrik is a member of the Lower Brule Pastoral Team. Originally from the Indonesian Province, he came to the United States in 2009 to learn English in preparation for ministry in the Philippines. However, during his studies he was asked to consider a different missionary assignment: South Dakota. He has served in South Dakota for over a dozen years, and has been a member of the Provincial Council of the US Province.