Thursday, November 13, 2014

Word for the Day: Stranger

When I was a privileged, undeserving student at a leading boarding school and top-shelf liberal-arts college, I had a strange habit.

My habit was to hang out—not all the time but frequently, as if by some secret inclination I did not understand and could not control—with students we might loosely have called losers. 

I felt better, happier, more serene with these losers. They were not really losers, of course, but nor were they class leaders, hot shots, alpha dogs, or homecoming queens.* Some probably went on to make billions as computer entrepreneurs, I’m guessing. But at the time they were not socially desirable, and yet somehow I desired their company.

At the time, I laid this to a weakness in me. I thought that I was a loser myself. I thought it was a mark of my weakness that I could not stand up to the big shots and had to hang around in the corner of the dining hall with guys and sometimes gals who no one else was talking with.

Today, I recognize this strange attraction to the lonely stranger as a good thing. I recognize it as an impulse still alive in my heart—thanks be to God—which I experience quite frequently at morning mass. I recognize it as a mark of grace.

Please note, I have never taken credit for this inclination, hence the term grace. In fact, I used to think it was a failing. Today I go with it, and at morning mass I sometimes try to reach out to the lonely stranger who knows no one else in the entire congregation and will just quietly pray in a corner and then go away unless someone extends a hand.

I think our Church would be stronger if each of us made an effort to hang out with strangers like that, not as formal charity but just because it feels good.

I was moved to suggest this (write this post) when I read the collect for today, dedicated to the first-canonized American saint, Frances Xavier Cabrini. It reads:

God, our Father, who called Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy, to serve the immigrants of America, by her example, teach us to have concern for the stranger, the sick, and all those in need, and by her prayers help us to see Christ in all the men and women we meet. Through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . 

The word that jumped out at me was stranger. Next time you’re at mass, put your hand out to a stranger.

* NOTE: If you were one of my friends at one of those fancy places, I am probably not writing about you. I am writing about the philosophy major sitting alone at a corner table in the dining hall whom I, for some strange reason, pulled up a chair beside and began chatting up while you were editing the school paper or writing your brilliant thesis that got you into Harvard Business School. Not you.

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