When did God's love for you begin? When He began to be God. When did He begin to be God? Never, for He has always been without beginning and without end, and so He has always loved you from all eternity. - Introduction to the Devout LifeIn a world in which love is so often given in proportion to how well the receiver has earned it, the eternal and unconditional love of God is a hard thing to grasp. Our limited understanding struggles with the enormity of it -- how can one grasp forever? How do we put our arms around eternity? It is not possible in our present state; yet God may choose to gift us with glimpses of His love every now and again…and this week he gave such a glimpse to me.
My car, a luxurious (albeit ancient) Nissan Maxima with all the bells and whistles (in Buffalo that means HEAT, RADIO, and REAR DEFOGGER)has been sitting idle in my driveway. It just won't start, and I don't have the money to pay our local mechanic the bankroll he extorts with every visit. The neighbors are getting a bit concerned about the "abandoned car"…and I don't suppose I blame them; it is beginning to look a little like a "Sanford and Son" re-run around here.
I have had ample opportunity to access Buffalo's extensive public transportation options, a treat by anyone's standard (tongue firmly in cheek). A short bus ride links me to the subway, the subway stops quite literally at the door of the hospital. The train is my favorite; it's much quieter than the bus, and the seats are arranged so that we pretty much are all staring at each other the entire way. Not that we do; most bury their noses in books, play with their phones, or lean back while music streams from those teeny little ear buds. A furtive glance is about the most one might consider acceptable in such a situation. Any more than that indicates one of three assumptions, aptly called "the 3 S's" by a co-worker: stoned, schizophrenic, or stupid. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh…but fairly accurate.
On Monday afternoon I boarded the train and instantly realized I boarded the wrong one -- a transit authority officer was arguing with a woman clearly mentally ill and homeless about the fact that she did not have a ticket. The officer kept telling her to get off the train, she kept yelling no, and begging for mercy, and the train sat motionless. The other riders began heckling her, demanding she get off the train, complaining that they were going to be late. It was a fairly irritating situation. I opened my book and feigned reading.
"Sir, Sir, I need your help, please help me!" I kept reading, even though I knew instantly she was talking to me. I desired anonymity at that moment. It was not meant to be. She kept at it; I looked up, and sure enough, she was looking directly at me.
I am an Emergency Room nurse. I am a long-time volunteer at a homeless shelter. I am not averse to speaking to mentally ill individuals, nor do they frighten or intimidate me. I know God expects me to be loving, and to reach out to those in need…but on the train, I thought? I sighed. "Come sit next to me," I said. The officer looked suspicious. As she settled, continuing her (LOUD) cries for mercy, I spoke plainly. "Please lower your voice, be quiet and listen. I will help you. But you must promise to sit here quietly with me until I tell you. Can you do that?" She held a finger to her lips and nodded.
I asked the officer what would happen when she got off the train. "She's going to be arrested at street level." What if I bought her a ticket, I inquired? "Well, I don't recommend that. She's here causing trouble all the time." But what if I did? "Then she's free to go," he said, looking clearly irritated.
"Let's go", I said. She followed me dutifully. At the ticket kiosk she handed me fifty cents toward the cost of the ticket, and I used it; she looked pleased that she was able to contribute. The ticket printed, and I gave it to her, all under the watchful eye of the officer. "She'll be at it tomorrow, too," he said. Probably.
I got back on the next train with her, and she disappeared in the crowd. At my station I got off as a mother and three little children got on…and that was the moment. That was the very moment that God flooded my soul with the grace to experience one tiny moment of His love for me. He allowed me to see the homeless, sick woman as a child, a beloved daughter, the pride of her family. I saw the way He protected her in her illness. I saw the way he chose men and women to provide for her needs…like me that day. I was his instrument to protect her that very day.
Why was I chosen at that moment? No clue. God's ways are beyond me. He just did. And he showed me. I wept. This woman who appeared so unwanted, undesired, unneeded by everyone around her, was so loved and cared for by our God. Awesome.
As we continue our novena, let us ask St. Francis de Sales to intercede for us that we may be given the grace to recognize God's great love for us, and how He uses us to edify, protect and comfort others. When we doubt our own worth, and feel isolated and alone, let us draw close to the love God gives so freely, a love that has no beginning and no end, a love that finds its way into the hearts of men and women everywhere…even in the subway rattling under the streets of snowy Buffalo, New York.