By Br Damien Price
I WAS recently trapped in a meeting and a good friend of mine – the principal of a large Catholic school – was sitting next to me.
He recalled how the day before he encountered a young woman – a student in his school – who was in constant trouble.
Then he said, “She was certainly Jesus in his most least recognisable form”. That got me thinking.
Leo Tolstoy wrote Martin the Cobbler in 1885.
The story is about a shoemaker, Martin Avdeitch, a good, hardworking, honest man.
Each day Martin would read the Scriptures.
One night he read a passage about a Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his house, and in the house a woman anointed and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.
That night in a dream, Martin heard the voice of God telling him that he would visit him the next day.
The next day Martin sceptically waited and watched for God through the small window of his cobbler’s shop.
While he searched and waited for God he saw Stepanitch shovelling away snow.
Martin invited him in for a warm drink.
Later he saw a young woman outside with a baby not properly dressed for the cold.
He invited her in for some food and gave her warmer clothes and money.
Then he saw a young boy stealing from an older lady.
He went outside and settled their argument and he extended love and compassion towards the both of them. Martin waited all day.
That night he wondered why God had not visited him.
In the depth of yet another dream, Martin clearly saw the faces of his day pass through the eye of his heart – and he heard – oh so clearly “Martin, it is I” as each face smiled at him.
I’m not Tolstoy and certainly at no point in my life has a surfie-looking young man dressed in robe and sandals come up to me and said, “Damien, it is I”.
But I have sat in silence and awe with Year 9 boys high up on Mt Maroon and watched the sunrise – watched my dad engage with a homeless tramp – treating him as if the Pope himself had come to visit – signing away a Vinnies food voucher.
I have observed the eye sparkle of respect as Br Terry Giles in Melbourne engages with asylum seekers, and being left speechless as I nursed Henry and Rohan – the identical twin sons of a dear friend of mine – and they snuggled into my arms after their feed.
A friend of mine once volunteered in Sydney with homeless men and women.
Sue shared with me that one time she went to Melbourne to volunteer for some days at the Sacred Heart mission.
While there she noticed and was deeply moved by several of the homeless that she met.
While in Melbourne one of the regulars at Cana in Sydney died and Sue struggled to remember him.
Upon her return a trip through the photo album helped put a face to the name but little else.
At the funeral Sue looked around and listened to the stories of “Gordon” but she felt a stranger to him and in the midst of her busyness around the community had rarely really seen him.
Sue looked me in the eye and I will never forget her words as she reflected on her “learning”, likening this sacred encounter to the story of Martha and Mary.
“Now I know what Martha missed out on and what Mary had that no-one could take from her.
“Mary, who was instinctively aware that time was short and who found that, while Jesus will return in a different guise tomorrow, the Jesus of today comes when he wills and cannot wait till we have a convenient gap in our agenda.”
Yes, today and every day we will encounter the God beyond all names, if we walk with humility, look gently, hasten slowly, choose to be present and – don’t go looking for sandals.
Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.