When I discovered this point

July 23, 2021 -- Living City

I felt her enthusiasm as if it were my own

Life-changing results from walking in someone else’s shoes at a reception

By Fr. David Rider

When I first met the Focolare Movement as a teenager, one of the points of the Focolare spirituality that most attracted me was the idea of “making ourselves one.” Growing up Catholic, I had always known that I was supposed to love my neighbor, but it wasn’t always clear to me how exactly to do that. 

When I discovered this point of the Gospel-based Art of Loving, I came to understand that to love means to enter into the joys, the sorrows, the problems, and even the interests of the person in front of us in the present moment. 

I began putting this insight into practice as a teenager, and, while I have not always succeeded in living this point perfectly, over the years I have had many powerful experiences of making myself one with my neighbor — or, as people also say, “walking in the other’s shoes.” 

One of them happened recently. In one of the parishes where I was serving, I had become friendly with a married couple. As our friendship grew, they became much more serious about their faith. They wanted so badly for their adult children to take their faith seriously, too, but their children simply did not share their passion when it came to religious matters. 

One day, I had the honor of blessing the couple on their wedding anniversary in church, and I was invited to the reception after the ceremony. Before the reception, the husband told me: “I am going to sit you next to my daughter. Please try to talk her into coming back to the church.” 

At the reception, I sat next to his daughter, a lovely young woman in her late twenties. I realized that I was being presented with a great opportunity to live one of my favorite points of the Focolare spirituality. I also knew that I had to love this young woman without any agenda or ulterior motives, not even one as noble as her return to religious practice. 

I introduced myself to her and immediately set about asking her about herself. I asked her what she did for work. “I’m a paramedic,” she told me, “and I love what I do.” 

For the next hour, I asked her every question I could think of about her work as a paramedic. She gladly shared with me all about her job, and I could tell that she was touched that someone was taking such an interest in her life. 

Soon the topic switched to her fiancé. For another hour, I asked her all the questions I could think of about their relationship, their story and their plans for their future. I really tried to share in her excitement about both topics and to feel her enthusiasm as if it were my own. 

From time to time, her father would come by to say hello, and I could sense his disappointment each time he realized that were not discussing religion. After about two hours of doing my best to make myself one with this young woman, she abruptly changed topics. 

“I know I should be a better Catholic,” she said, quite suddenly. “I can’t give you any good reason why I fell away. I guess life just got busy and other things became my priority. My parents would like to see me back at Mass, and, to tell you the truth, I would like to be back, too.” 

Now mind you, up to this point I had not said a single word about religion, and yet, here she was telling me that she wanted to come back to church. 

“Do you have any advice for me?” she asked. I simply told her to remember that it’s never too late to begin again, and I suggested that she make a good confession before returning to Mass. 

“Yes, I should probably do that,” she said. “When are the confession hours?” 

“Well,” I said, “most churches have confessions on Saturday afternoons. However, you are sitting next to a priest. I could hear your confession right now if you want. 

“Besides,” I joked, “I give really light penances.” 

She jumped at the opportunity. We stepped outside, went to the parking lot, and that young woman made one of the most beautiful, sincere, heartfelt confessions I have ever heard. Rarely have I felt as much joy giving someone absolution as I felt that evening in the parking lot of that restaurant. 

The next Sunday, to her parents’ great delight, she was back at Mass, ready to receive the Eucharist with her soul cleansed and renewed by the sacrament of mercy. 

St. Paul tells us, “I have become all things to all, to save at least some” (1 Cor 9:22). We may not always see the fruits of our efforts as powerfully as I did that night at that reception, but we can be certain that, in some way, souls are truly being saved every time we choose to love by making ourselves one.

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