Last night as we were finishing dinner, a neighbor appeared unexpectedly at our door. He had dropped by “just to visit.” Inviting him to eat, my sister quickly made a plate of the leftovers on the kitchen counter and we sat back down with him as he ate.
He is a recent widower, having lost his wife a few weeks ago. Her death was sudden, even though she had been battling cancer, and he shared how lonely and sad he has been. He spoke of piled up bills, how she had done all the keeping of the accounts in their long married life, and how adrift he was.
Words can fall flat in the face of such grief and pain, so we mostly just listened, giving him our attention and presence as the only offering we really had.
He talked non-stop, rambling from one topic to another, just needing a human being to listen and care.
As he spoke, I thought of a visit I had made to one of the field houses of the Madonna House community. We had just sat down for dinner when the doorbell rang. One of the members jumped up and said, “Jesus is at the door,” and went off to see who was there and what they needed.
That incident stayed with me. Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, reminded her followers often that Jesus is in each person we meet, and she taught them to say, “Jesus is at the door” as a way of keeping that truth present in our minds. How am I going to treat this person before me? How would I treat Jesus standing there?
Sitting before this bereft widower, I reminded myself, “This is Jesus here before me now.” The conversation was not very interesting or engaging, but I could offer to Jesus in this man my listening ear.
Pope Francis said on Sunday at the Angelus, “Today we are so caught up in a frenzy with so many problems, some of which are not important, and we lack the ability to listen. We are constantly busy and so we have no time to listen.”
He went on to challenge us, “I ask you to learn to listen and to dedicate more time [to listening.] The ability to listen is the root of peace.”
Today when you are with an aging parent, a rambunctious four year old, an annoying co-worker, a frustrated spouse — remember that Jesus is at the door. And your decision to listen to them will bring the world greater peace.