It is increasingly common that people are surprised by simple gestures of humanity. We give these gestures almost no value, because we consider them to be normal, usual.
In a shelter, a volunteer called out the name of a Pakistani refugee, who, when asked if he preferred white pasta or pasta with sauce, meat or fish, began to cry with emotion. A girl sends a text message to a Bulgarian she had only just met: "How are you?" The man is astonished that someone almost unknown can be interested in him. I could tell of endless episodes of this kind.
Gestures can be simple, like those mentioned, or more striking: we think of those Germans and Austrians who are rushing to accommodate the refugees at their borders and of the many who, on a daily basis work on the Italian coast to look after those arriving by boat. It seems nothing compared to the enormity of the problems and yet the effect of such gestures of welcome is earth-shattering to the recipients. But the gestures may appear trivial and obvious to us observers. Is a simple act of politeness sufficient to explain their surprise?
In order to look at a refugee with care and to be able to turn to a stranger in such a familiar and welcoming way, we need something of which we are almost not aware. Still crying, the refugee tells about the years spent in another part of the world, where his employer had never called him by name and where he was fed with a bowl of rice. But now, someone calls him by his name and even questions him about what he wants to eat.
For too long we have lost the awareness of the origin of this looking after a man, and in doing so we can also lose familiarity with the gestures born from it. For this we need other people like the refugees, who give us, through the wonder of his face, the conscience of our history and the awareness of what we bring. What has made this care towards him, this esteem for him that is so striking for him? Certainly it is not because we are any better. Simply, we belong to a story that started in the bible. A story that has generated our humanity when we discover God's compassion for us, a love for us beyond our capacity.
Do we realise that behind those seemingly simple welcoming deeds is the story of God's preference for us? This preference, experienced in the liberation from Egypt, allowed Israel to look at the stranger in a manner not usual for the ancient world, "Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deut 10, 19). And that preference culminates with when the Word was made flesh, when God came to dwell among us. The life of the Church, our schools, our families, our community, generate a subject that looks at others with a total interest in their destiny. Without awareness of that gaze full of love for me and for you there is no Christmas! There would be only a formal ritual, like so many things we do without any echo of joy in ourselves. Christmas is the re-happening of the origin of the great history of real humanity we are a part of. The tired repetition of a tradition is unable to move our heart and generate gestures of humanity that are so striking for others.
The Year of Mercy is the re-happening of that gaze upon ourselves today. That love that reaches us where we are and as we are, happens again through those unfamiliar faces with their cheery invitation: what do you want to eat? That love gives us back our lives and invites us to recognize God's plan. God, the mystery, the destiny made man, turns up to you and to me, and to all men who are called to see God, to notice God, in a face, in a human face that you come across. A face that questions with disarming simplicity: "What's your name? How are you?" and moves others to cry tears of joy. Recognising the ways in which God calls us - through the most unknown face - is the only option to not make us frustrated in our lives and continue to be witnesses of that gaze that makes us truly free, in any situation.
The content of this homily is mainly inspired by an article in Traces magazine.