My wife went into labor two months early during her first pregnancy. The night commenced with the darkened skies of forecasted thunderstorms and concluded with a sunlit, morning delivery of unexpected twins.
The premature, tiny, fragile surprises were transported by ambulance to the nearest available neo-natal intensive care unit 55 miles away. Michael and Sarah spent the next forty days in the hospital and my wife Diane and I faithfully made a 110-mile round-trip visit on all but one of those days.
I’m not going to lie—it was a tough and trying season in life. While holding our sickly children the monitor alarms would blast as their vital signs plunged. The doctors made no promises of survival. We were young and lived over 400 miles away from our families and life-long friends. We were often pressed to our very limits. Yet, we were trusting that Jesus would work.
Work he did— just not in the manner I expected (Jesus can be like that sometimes). Being young and an amateur to the experience of suffering, I anticipated Jesus’ revealing his love in a quick, even miraculous recovery of the twins. Instead their progress was sluggish, arduous, and full of disappointing twists and hopeful turns. Gradually, Michael and Sarah shed the tangled net of life support wires and hoses and added enough size and weight to be discharged from the hospital.
Their road to recovery was not the “miraculous” feat I anticipated. However, Jesus revealed his love and presence in an equally powerful manner.
Much of each day was consumed by the lengthy commute and visiting the twins. Our daily schedule left little time for anything else, let alone home-cooked meals.
Without a word, our parish community began arranging and delivering home-cooked meals to us from some of the best cooks in the parish. Diane and I were overwhelmed by their love. We felt the tangible love and comforting presence of Jesus through his body—our parish community.
My in-laws visited us a couple of weeks after the twins’ birth. My father-in-law was a good man, however he was disillusioned with the church. I am not sure what happened, but over the years he lost faith in the body of Christ. He had stopped going to Mass and often complained that the church was filled with hypocrites.
After visiting the twins in the hospital for the first time, Joan, a young mother from our parish arrived at our door lugging an oversized picnic basket. As she pulled out an amazing, homemade five-course dinner and bottle of wine from the basket, my father-in-law’s eyes began to well up with tears. He really tried to say “thank you.” He just couldn’t. Every attempt was choked back by emotions. She and the parish community’s love for us completely overwhelmed him. He was so profoundly touched that day, that once again he began praying grace before meals.
Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Church’s most powerful and convincing apologetic is our love for one another. Our parish communities should be a concrete illustration to the world as to what it means to be members of the Kingdom of God.
If our parish community’s reputation is anything less than love, then we’ve missed our mark.
As parish communities, do we love one another? Are people branding us “disciples” because of our love? Let’s intentionally grow into this identity.