There are so many times in my life that I don’t recognize Christ in front of me. Often it’s my own barriers and prejudices that keep me from hearing the messengers God sends. However, Simeon waited his entire life for the Christ child, and he did not hesitate to proclaim the goodness of God and the salvation of the world.
As the director of Nazareth Farm I have the privilege of being invited into people’s homes to be present to them and their needs. Last week a coworker and I visited a handful of homeowners to review their home repair requests. The first few households presented their own insights into the special challenges of poverty for the elderly and disabled in West Virginia. I was able to find hope in these people and homes, even in places where we could not fix the biggest repair.
But the last woman we met deeply showed me the suffering Christ in my community the most clearly. As we entered her dark home, she shrank back into a wall, shaking with fear and embarrassment. She shuffled us through her house to look at floors, walls, falling cabinets, and her stories of heartache and vulnerability spilled out. A handyman half-completed multiple jobs with substandard materials, her family maxed out her credit cards without her knowledge, her son struggles with addiction, and other relatives refuse to be a part of her family. She felt totally alone and in reality that wasn’t far from the truth. We took a few minutes away from her to discuss what we could do and check out a half fixed hot water heater in her basement.
As I knelt down to evaluate a dripping pipe, surrounded by temporary fixes to her foundation, I became overwhelmed by her situation and those of the other people we had met that day. They have so deeply accepted their own pain. Where is Christ in these homes where people are patiently waiting for Him? How can I dare walk with them when I get to go back to my house? Why I am not seeing God’s full presence in my community?
We left that day after taking more time to be open to the person in front of us, and God’s glory was revealed. Her stories of pain also brought stories of her ability to see Christ as the King of Glory, the one whom we all need to live most fully. Her stories also pulled us all into a new relationship with each other, one where we all were able to see God present in the lives around us. Much like Simeon, I was not expecting to see Christ that day. But once I did, I knew there was hope for redemption together.
Allyson Petry is the director of Nazareth Farm, a small, intentional Catholic community living and working in rural West Virginia. When not behind a desk, she enjoys joining her staff on home repair projects and visiting neighbors.