September is already here, many of our children have returned or are returning to school. For many, this is a time excitement, wonder, and new beginnings, yet for some, there is fear, apprehension, and uncertainty. 

Yet both of these groups ask similar questions — “Will I make new friends? Will others like me? Will I fit in? Can I keep up in class?” The list of questions and insecurities can go on and on. 

Yet the biggest question of all is, “Will I be accepted and welcomed?” St. Paul speaks to this very question in this Sunday’s reading. He, Paul, is sending a young disciple back home — once a slave — now he is asking that Onesimus be accepted as an equal. Yet Paul does not want this to be a “forced” acceptance for his sake alone, but rather a voluntary and open-armed acceptance, a genuine welcome. He is asking his follower, Philemon to receive Onesimus as one would receive a returning family member — as one of his own.

Like Philemon, it is ultimately up to each and every one of us to choose to see others as brothers and sisters in Christ. To look beyond the visual appearance to see with Spiritual and loving eyes — to see with our hearts rather than our minds. We have all encountered people whose appearance, status, or history leaves us questioning whether or not they are worth our time and effort. 

Yet if we listen to the words of St. Paul, are we not choosing to decide someone’s worth and welcome based on what or who they are or have been. We all have had our moments of regret, done some “stupid” things, or even chosen paths that may not have brought us to our brightest hour — most of us have a least one skeleton in our closets. 

Would anyone of us want to be judged on our past, rather than our potential? I am sure the answer would be a resounding “no.” 

So why do we allow this to continue? Why are children bullied? Why are adults ostracized within their communities? Why are those who suffer seen only as a product of their choices rather than the person within? Why do we not welcome those who are different? If we are true followers of Christ, choosing to be His disciples, then we must let go of all that binds us — which includes our own biases and insecurities. If we truly believe in the teachings of Christ and accept them, why is this such a struggle for so many of us? 

Jesus tells us, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” How can we accomplish this simple Commandment? We must by seeing the homeless person as a brother or sister, looking into the eyes of the addicted and seeing someone’s loved one, gazing upon the wrinkled face of an elder, recognizing the wisdom in all their years, and welcoming the immigrant who is simply seeking a chance at a better life. Ultimately, learning to recognize the Christ within every single person we encounter. 

To see others as Christ would see them and to look at them as if looking through the eyes of Christ, we may all be amazed at what you see. You may find the gentle spirit hiding behind the harsh exterior, the frighten child veiled behind the false bravado, the lonely soul who appears aloof for fear of being hurt again. We may come to see the beauty of the person despite their appearance. We may learn that they were not always “this way,” that life may have been harsh and unforgiving — and their current façade is simply a means to protect themselves from further harm or hurt. 

A prime example of this protective nature can be seen in the movie “Home Alone 2,” where a homeless woman living in Central Park comes across as a frightening individual. It is when Kevin befriends her that we learn she was not always this way, but chose this life as a means of keeping others away and not letting anyone get “too close” again for fear of being hurt. We also see in the first “Home Alone” how an elderly neighbor’s solitude leads to many misconceptions about who he is and his past. It is only when Kevin speaks with him that he realized he is only a lonely old man who wishes life was different, not someone to be feared. 

It all comes down to our own choices and conviction — are we willing to accept others as brothers and sisters? Can we choose to see beyond the trappings of this world, allowing ourselves to get to know the person in front of us? We must keep in mind that the “slave” will remain a “slave” (which in today’s world can take on many masters), whose true freedom only comes from being seen and fully accepted as an equal, as “a brother or sister.” 

Remembering that if we regard ourselves as followers of Christ, then we will welcome all in the same way that we would welcome Christ — hopefully, with open arms. 

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River and works for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

Email her at rsaraiva@dfrcs.com

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