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I walked briskly into my co-worker’s office to drop off some papers before going about the rest of my day. Her elderly husband was there with her, but I didn’t stop to say hello before continuing with my objective. They were on their way out the door; I was merely concerned with carrying out my task. I barely acknowledged his presence, if at all.
As I finished my business with her, he looked at me and called me out for not greeting him. Although he was teasing, the accuracy of his point struck me and continues to nudge my conscience, even as I think about the event days later.
How often do I see people – even look them in the face – but not acknowledge their presence? Whether this stems from my own insecurity, laziness, or any other reason, the effect is the same: I am failing to step outside of myself and recognize with wonder the person in front of me, who was created by God and is now held in existence by His love. As Pope Benedict said in his homily
at the beginning of his pontificate, “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Do I treat the people I encounter each day according to this truth? Do I acknowledge the dignity that each of us has, as one who is precious to God?
In Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II recognizes that, as a “people for life,” “we need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook.” He goes on to say that “such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a ‘wonder’,” and that “it is time...with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honor every person” (no. 32).
When I studied abroad for a semester with about 160 other students from my college, I initially thought of many of them as strangers. Yet in time, I grew to be struck by the incredible richness and beauty of the individual people with whom I traveled, studied, and worshipped. They became three-dimensional as I learned about their families and shared experiences with them that the adventure of traveling provides. It wasn’t as though they were less worthy at the beginning of the semester of the reverence and honor to which Pope John Paul II called us. I just saw more clearly as time progressed.
That experience taught me to appreciate the beauty – and humanity – of each person. Although I was given this moving experience with my fellow students over the course of getting to know them better, the same outlook is due to all others, whether someone I only make eye contact with while walking through the grocery store or my best friend.
Both my encounter with my colleague’s husband and the experience with my study abroad group encourage me to take the extra moment to pause and recognize the people the Lord places in front of me – even if only to send a smile in their direction as we pass each other in the hall. I am grateful for these reminders. I pray that the Lord will grant all of us the grace to really see the people He puts in our paths, and to look on them with Christ’s loving gaze.
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