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Diakonia: A Revolution of Tenderness

Soft eyes and soft hearts

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After the resurrection, Jesus sought out his shattered disciples hiding in locked rooms in terror. He walked along the road to Emmaus to be with his followers who were turning away in grief. He waited on the shore so that his closest friend would not be swallowed by his shame of betrayal.

The Risen Christ continues to teach us about encounter, the diakonia of presence, just as he did before his passion. During his years of ministry, he was always on the move yet open to each person who happened to be on the path -- a blind man near Jericho, a woman with a hemorrhage who reached out to touch his cloak, a rich young man who was searching. In every situation, Jesus was totally present and attentive. And in every encounter he would ask a question that would open the way for them to share their story, to name their pain and longing -- a question that would provide an opportunity for transformation and healing. And then he would wait and allow the other to respond.

On that first Easter Jesus does the same when he encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He is fully present to them as they struggle with their grief and despair and then he asks a simple question: "What are you discussing on the way?" He wants to hear their story; he wants them to share their pain and brokenness. The result is transformative. They begin to see more clearly as they enter into conversation, and after the breaking of bread their hearts are inflamed again, they are fully alive again, and they rush back to join their community.

Jesus handed on this mission of encounter to each of us. It is our mission. It is the mission of evangelization that Pope Francis calls us back to. And yet we never know when these moments of deep encounter will occur, when we will meet our struggling brothers and sisters on the roads that we walk. How do we live this mission out in our daily lives? By being present and listening to each other's stories. When we listen to each other, when we begin to learn each other's stories, the light gets in, we become connected, our eyes and our hearts become soft again, alive again. We meet the Risen One.

A true encounter begins with presence and attention. We so routinely walk through our day distracted by regrets and worries when the sacred moment of encountering the Risen Christ is right in front of us. I recall such an encounter with Joseph, a man I would occasionally greet at a local coffee shop in which he worked.

On this particular day I noticed that he did not have his usual energy and easy smile. His eyes seemed filled with grief. "Are you alright?" I asked. This simple question was a moment of grace. Joseph slowly shook his head and tears began to stream down his face. He walked around the counter and fell into my arms sobbing. His college-aged daughter had taken her own life with an overdose of medication two days earlier. In that moment the only gift I had to offer was my presence, but that was enough.

The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to walk the road to Emmaus in our daily lives with those whose hearts are broken and who need to know that healing and resurrection are possible. It may seem easier to walk by and mind our own business, but we are people of the empty tomb, we are Christ's incarnate eyes and hearts walking the road in our families, neighborhoods, and parishes. Living the resurrection allows us to see the sacredness of each person and each story. We know that suffering is not the final story and that sharing each other's crosses makes every load lighter. That moment of encounter with Joseph was the first step of walking with him on the road of grief and healing in the weeks and months that followed.

It all begins with the grace of being present, of allowing the Risen Christ to ask a simple question through us, and being willing to stay and wait for a reply. After the resurrection, Christ encountered his disciples and prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit so that they would have the courage to go out and do as he had done. May we embrace this gift of courage and transform our world through soft eyes and soft hearts, sharing in the diakonia of Christ one encounter at a time.

DEACON DAN BURNS SERVES AT ST.MARY-ST.CATHERINE OF SIENA PARISH IN CHARLESTOWN. THIS REFLECTION IS ONE IN A SERIES ACKNOWLEDGING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTORATION OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE IN THE UNITED STATES AND EXPLORING THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO DIAKONIA FOR THE CHURCH AND ALL DISCIPLES.

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