Longing Hearts

“Jesus, can I play with this?”

Little Ashley’s braids bounced merrily about her face as she eyed the pool table with its multicolored balls glistening enticingly. A bearded Franciscan Friar, the recipient of Ashley’s greeting, was passing by.

The scene was a Bronx elementary school gym on a Sunday afternoon, where a handful of youngsters were chasing each other in an enthusiastic game of basketball (except Ashley who wanted to play pool). A few breathless volunteers struggled to keep up with the kids. In a classroom nearby, their mothers and a few older children were intent on a presentation by a young man, frequently interjecting comments and questions and taking copious notes. A Sister of Life, baby in arm, darted between the classroom and the gym, checking in on the moms and the basketball game, while another was putting finishing touches on a birthday cake.

This is a little vignette from the “custom-tailored” RCIA program that we are blessed to host for those we serve in our mission: a journey with the Lord, culminating with Baptism and Confirmation, fittingly on the Feast of St. John the Baptist. It is striking how each human heart longs for God, and our little group of single moms from the South Bronx is filled with longing hearts. Their hunger to learn about God in Holy Scripture is so refreshing. They bring a wonder all their own as they hear Bible stories that are so familiar to cradle Christians: They have never heard of Noah or the Ark (wondering how Noah fit all the animals into the Ark.) They are full of commentary about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. They relate very personally to the story of the Annunciation (You mean the Virgin Mary wasn’t married when she got pregnant!) and are impressed by St. Joseph’s goodness and gentleness (I know what the father of my baby would have said if I told him that story!)  Frequently the lessons turn into spontaneous applications to situations in their daily lives: for instance, Jesus’ admonition to forgive our enemies turns into a lively discussion on anger management, and a discussion on the meaning of authentic love reveals how many of the women have learned to recognize real love through their relationships with Sisters and Co-Workers of Life. At the end of the class, everyone lingers to admire each other’s children, swap parenting advice, and just to socialize.

We see how Jesus comes so tenderly, so lovingly, so creatively into each of the precious lives entrusted to us through this ministry. He delights in meeting “our moms” exactly where they are, and coming into the home of their hearts. Just as he does so for each of them, He does so for each of us. Jesus comes into the home of our hearts, if we only open the door a crack. He meets us exactly where we are. Just as He knows the dreams, the pain, the joys and the fears of the women we serve, He also knows ours.  And He even knows our sins.  He loves to be with us in all of this, rejoicing in our joys and healing our brokenness and sin. When Jesus comes into the home of our hearts, He doesn’t mind if it is messy. It is like He comes in with a bucket and a sponge. He takes us by the hand and cleans our home right alongside us.

We just need to open the door a crack.

You stand at the door of my heart and want to come in and be with me.
I am afraid to open the door because some of the walls have holes in them and there are puddles on the floor.
But, Jesus, You are the one that can help me with this mess.
I’m going to open the door just a crack.
Please heal me, Jesus. Wipe up the puddles on my floor and patch the holes in my walls with your Sacrament of Penance. Disinfect my wounds with the fire of your Holy Spirit. Stay with me in your gift of the Eucharist.
Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.