Love to the End

A reflection by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director, on the power of love in action.

Mother Maria of Paris

Mother Maria of Paris

“No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions.”

This is a quote from one of my heroes. Mother Maria of Paris was an Orthodox Christian nun who cared for the poor and who was martyred in Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1945. Her life and writings have taught me so much about love.

Loving people is really hard work - especially people whose life or values are different than ours. “Love” is a strained word - stretched beyond strength, said so freely that “love for one another” can sound more like pithy rhetoric than a solution. And yet, I believe only love truly carries us, heals us, redeems us in the end. Who hasn’t longed for a single kind word on a dark day? Whose heart hasn’t softened when someone walked beyond what’s polite to the stretch of rough road that lies between today’s promise and tomorrow’s provision? In a race where hope and despair are neck and neck, love for one another makes all the difference. Love never fails.

Our work at Reconciliation Services becomes that love for those we serve -- enough love to listen to all; enough love to co-labor to find a solution; enough love for those whose journey to healing is long and unsure. Love to the end and without exceptions.

For some, love and healing begins with short-term urgent needs: providing ID and document assistance, assistance paying rent or utility bills, paying for a prescription, or offering a hot nutritious meal. These interactions may be short but the love we share in these vulnerable moments often leads to trust and deeper sharing. For these guests we can build transformational relationships through our REVEAL trauma and depression therapy program, our community volunteers at Thelma’s Kitchen, and our Foster Grandparents Program.

I want to tell you about two sisters who reveal the power of this love in action. Sonya and Tykeiaa both came to RS in need of a little help. When Sonya relocated to Kansas City, she was struggling to find a way to pay for the many medications she needed. Your gifts enabled us to help her buy those medications and put her resources towards finding employment and settling into a new home. She is now employed full-time.

“Reconciliation Services is well know in the community for helping people … It’s a good safe place… The case managers follow up and go out of their way to help.” ~ Sonya Nicholson

“Reconciliation Services is well know in the community for helping people … It’s a good safe place… The case managers follow up and go out of their way to help.” ~ Sonya Nicholson

Tykeiaa walked further with our team. Her ID was stolen while staying at an area shelter. When she came to RS, one of our team was there to really listen to her story and understand how we could best support her. First, we helped her get her ID, prescription glasses, and needed medications. Then we were able to help her take meaningful steps towards healing through our trauma and depression therapy program.

There are hundreds in our community, just like Sonya and Tykeiaa, whose lives are being transformed by radical love. As I reflect back on our work today and the life of Mother Maria, I am continually strengthened by her example of both loving leadership and courageous service against all odds. She stands among many others who inspire our work here at Reconciliation Services: Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Gandhi, to name a few. Each worked in his or her own context as a prominent and active supporter of equality. Each labored to restore the dignity of the human person. Today, we feel that our work on Troost Avenue is a continuation of their legacy.

Thank you for your support, which is enabling us to love… to the end and without exception.

To read more about the amazing life of Mother Maria, see this beautiful article by Jim Forest on the Saint of the Open Door.

The Gift of Veneration

The day I met Fana she was slowly walking down the middle of Troost Avenue. I stopped and asked her if she was okay and suggested she move to the sidewalk. I’m not sure she understood me then. 

After many months of seeing her on the street and in and out of our church and at Reconciliation Services, she seemed like she had become more comfortable with me. In her broken English she would ask me questions. She always asked me about my “babies.” Mostly she was quiet. I learned that she had emigrated from east Africa. She lived in a group home and had lost custody of her children due to her mental illness and instability. 

One Sunday after church I noticed how badly worn her shoes were. I asked her what size she wore. I had collected some donation items earlier in the week and I had a great pair of shoes in my car that had never been worn. They were even her size. What a wonderful coincidence I thought. 

When I took her out to the car and showed them to her she said she didn’t want them. Here I was trying to help her, to give her what she needed! I didn’t understand. But then again, I never asked her if she needed (or even wanted) new shoes. I saw her torn and dirty shoes and I thought I could fix that for her. 

The following week a friend and I asked Fana if she wanted to go to the store with us and pick out a pair of shoes. She seemed excited to go with us. It was fall and with winter on its way I tried to steer her towards some sensible options. She didn’t like what I picked out. She kept returning again and again to a pair of flashy and impractical wedge slip-on sandals. 

Against my better judgement we got the sandals. Fana seemed happy. 

The next time I saw her she wasn’t wearing the sandals. She was wearing her old tattered shoes. Didn’t she like them? Had she lost them? Had she sold them? I didn’t ask her about them because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” 

I saw someone who needed shoes and I gave her shoes. I saw a need and honed in on a practical solution. That’s a good thing, right? But giving Fana a pair of shoes was well within the realm of what I could spare. It didn’t stretch me or challenge me. It didn’t necessitate time or attention—things that are much harder for me to part with.

I have written a quote on a chalkboard in my house by French philosopher Simone Weil. It reads, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” My giving was more of a knee-jerk-reaction to a need than an act of generosity. 

Over the course of many months of driving her to and from church and talking with her on the phone I did have more time with Fana. I learned of her sadness in losing her children. I heard her story of how she traded one world of suffering for another. I saw her frustration with her inability to understand the language and the place she now found herself in. I saw that in her tattered old purse that carried bits of plastic bags, random found objects, and what seemed like trash, she also carried the beautifully intricate beaded jewelry she made. 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:3 that “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 

Fana needed so much—a home, a job, her family restored, her mind restored, and even some new shoes. But what I failed to understand till much later was that what she enjoyed about going to the store to pick out those shoes was the attentiveness that was offered to her then. 

Giving that is separated from love is empty. And generosity without attention is common and limited.

Fana is not unlike others I have met through Reconciliation Services. Trauma, displacement, abuse, poverty, mental illness, sickness, and addiction rob people of their dignity and so much more. By honoring and deeply respecting people, Reconciliation Services labors to cultivate true veneration for the people it serves. It is a generosity that is born out of attentiveness and it goes far beyond a quick fix for an immediate need. 

Fana has moved to another state. We have talked on the phone a few times since she moved. I never did see her wear those silly sandals. But in the end it wasn’t about me giving her the shoes I thought she needed—the quick fix. In the end, I needed to see that the most generous gift I could offer her was attention.

Article by Jodi Mathews