The first time I learned the word “unique” was from a grade eighth religion teacher. She said we are made in the image of God, and that makes us unique. Ever since that revealing lesson, I have been wondering how I could meet this unique “me” in the journey of life.
The outer journey has been as challenging as the inner one. The circumstances that seemed to go contrary to my wish are often the best tools in remaking my inner self. The faces I so feared and disliked tuned out to be God’s countenance revealed to me.
I was buying food at a small restaurant during lunch. A slender old lady came in with her maid. I recognized who she was. Should I call her? I paused. She might have forgotten me, having had disconnected for twenty years. After a moment of hesitation, I called out to her name. She turned towards me, with a quizzical expression on her face. I told her my name again – for the first time in these twenty years. She smiled, clutched my hand tight and said a few words in a kind of closeness I had not anticipated.
“She’s now 90 years old,” said the lady selling food to me. “She often comes here to buy food.” She used to be a towering woman who exuded power and authority. By now what I saw in her was a frail old woman, though carrying the same thick eyebrows in their framing of her dark, penetrating eyes.
There was a fear I had had about her since small: fear in what she said, in what she did and in how she looked at me. In that fleeting encounter I knew the fear I once had was gone.
I did spend a lot of time in conquering fear, as if I was trudging towards the Promised Land with the enslaved Israelites. To win the war, one needs to fight at full blast. “Then comes the proclamation of the kingdom of God and this is the time for everyone to conquer it” (Luke 16:16).
This perpetual fear, with every side of it shrouded in darkness, paradoxically impelled me to seek God’s kingdom and salvation in a way that has been overwhelmingly desperate.
But it is through my repeated desperate attempts in seeking this merciful God that He brings me to Himself – to see His face. He gave me the people that make me panic, yet, in each moment of reflection, I began to appreciate these gifts of persons in all of which were hidden the countenance of God.
Were difficult people and difficult moments meant as gifts from heaven, how foolish of me to skip over them if the ultimate aim is to grow to be a mature and unique me.
On the road to maturity, the experiences of St. Francis of Assisi create one bright beam of light, more than enough to dispel my fear.
Francis had long detested the lepers, but on the urge of the Holy Spirit, he approached a leper, embraced him and kissed him. Since then he began to fall deeper and deeper in love with the Christ he met in the leper and in all those other servants who were really Christ: the poor, the marginal, the weak, the infirm, the powerless. He let go of his own ego, surrendering himself to a love which brings him new life.
Christ is the only one to be modeled, and through Him, with Him and in Him, I can discover the person God created me to be.