I recently moved to a new apartment and it taught me a bit about furniture, which taught me a bit about people.
I never had to buy my own furniture, so the process was a bit lost on me. My focus was on finding the best price. What I didn’t realize is that quality is also a big factor.
I figured that wood was wood. But as my friend, my sister and I tried to build a piece of furniture that I ordered online and the “wood” split, I realized that there might be a big difference between what is real and what is fake.
In contrast, I had also ordered a few pieces of furniture that were older, but refurbished. The original pieces were solid wood, but they were painted in a way that made them look beautiful.
This brand new piece looked nice on the outside, but it was made of something fake on the inside. While the older pieces may not have looked as nice on the outside, they were true, solid wood on the inside.
This made me think about our tendencies as humans to want to put on a façade to the world. If we follow all the rules of the Church and we say the right prayers and look like we’re doing what’s right, then people will think we are good. But what does our heart look like? Is it real, solid and genuine or is it fake, pliable and easily broken?
In contrast, maybe our sin is visible on the outside. We’re not proud of it, but we openly admit that we have failings. Maybe we struggle a bit with the rules; maybe we don’t always get it right. But our heart is solid, we genuinely love God, do our best and strive to do what is right every day.
I don’t know about you but I would rather go with the second option. When we acknowledge that we are human, we can make genuine connections through our openness and vulnerability. When our hearts are in the right place, versus looking “right” to the rest of the world, that is when true love of neighbor can occur. When we reach beyond the things that seem important to the real heart of the matter, true change can occur.
I think of Mary Magdalene. Others knew of her sin, looking down on her for it, calling her unclean. But she was so very close to the heart of Jesus. She knew very much what it was like to be human, to have failings, and yet she was so very close to the Divine. She may not have been welcome at the temple, but she knelt at the feet of Jesus. And he loved her, ate with her, welcomed her and called her his own when others would have turned her away.
In a February 2015 homily, Pope Francis spoke to a group of Cardinals, referencing Jesus’ act of healing a leper: “Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (John 10).”
The Pope continued, “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: ‘Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners’ (Lk 5:31-32).”
This is the way I desire to be, the way that he calls us to be. The kind of open vulnerability that requires us to acknowledge our failings enough to be able to meet others where they are and accompany them on their path to Christ. I don’t want to just look like I’m doing what is right on the outside. Rather, I want my heart to reflect that of Christ’s, like a piece of furniture with inherent value.