Seeing Beyond: The Call to Love
Pope John Paul II forgives his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca

Seeing Beyond: The Call to Love

What do you see when you look behind the jail bars? What do you think when you pass by the drug user strung out on the sidewalk? What about the man who commits suicide leaving behind his kids and mother? Do we think about how repulsive the criminal is? Or how the drug user has screwed up his life? And how selfish one must be to leave his children and mother behind? Or do we turn the other way and pretend this is not our problem?

By the time Paul was 18 years old he was a regular behind bars. He had been strung out on drugs since he was nine years old. At age 39 he died from a drug overdose that may have been intentional, leaving behind his two young children and his ailing mother. His mother would die just months later. Perhaps we would label Paul as someone who has “thrown his life away.” Or that he is a “loser” or “lost cause.” We judge based on what we see. But when we do not see at the outward judgment is what is underneath. It was at age 9 that Paul was raped the first time by his step-dad. Too ashamed and scared to tell his mother, Paul turned to drugs. By the time he told his mother, Paul was already addicted to drugs. His mother did all she could to help Paul, but it was not enough. Paul spent his life getting into more trouble and continuing to battle addiction. Paul suffered from anger issues and was in and out of treatment.

The impact of intergeneration trauma reverberates through the ages in secretive, destructive ways. How can it be that in the 21st century we continue to hide from the horrors of sexual assault and drug use? How can we still hide from these issues and scoff at those suffer from substance use because they have been abused? Could it be perhaps that we continue to forget how to love our neighbor? We so often turn away from suffering. We pretend not to see it or we think that there is nothing that we can do. Those who suffer with substance abuse often feel abandoned and alone. 

As individuals we need to do a better job at being honest with ourselves about how we show love. Each of us has different gifts and talents and through our uniqueness we can give to others in meaningful ways. And when we all participate more fully in how we love, then the impact is multiplied. At the same time, we need to be better at accepting love. We can be quick to reject the love that is show to us for myriad reasons, which leaves us feeling unloved, when this is simply not true. 

Let us look to Saint Pope John Paul II for an example of how to love better. On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded in Vatican City. He endured pain and suffering and near death at the hands of someone he had never met. What is even more amazing about Pope John Paull II was that he knew suffering long before this moment. He lost both of his parents at a young age and would venture into adulthood without a family to support him. Despite all of this suffering, after the attempt on his life, he visited the man in jail who tried to kill him. He showed love and kindness to this person who was hurting. 

Saint Pope John Paul II demonstrated throughout his life how to love even in the midst of suffering. He did not ostracize the man who attempted to kill him. He did not become bitter at the loss of his parents. He set his eyes on the cross and committed to loving all of those he encountered in his live. He saw the suffering heart of Christ in the suffering souls he encountered. And through his love he touched individuals and nations.

Everyone of us has encountered someone who relies on substances, who has committed suicide, and who has been traumatized. The shame around these realities needs to end and love needs to reign. If we look to our left and to our right, we will find a suffering soul. How can we help them today? How can we follow the example of Saint Pope John Paul II and love our neighbor despite who they are or what they have done? We must love if we are to show people a better way. We must show compassion and understanding if people are to choose love over substances. We have a huge problem in our society. People are hurting and are hurting in silence for lack of love. People do care and we need to be more thoughtful about how we can each show love to our suffering neighbor. The hurtful labels needs to stop and we need to start seeing.

Christ calls us to love and help our neighbor and if we are too self-absorbed, we can miss the call. We think, surely not I? I cannot do anything to help. Then we default to mumbling about saying a prayer for the person instead. Do we pray when we say that we will? Is there something else that we can do to help someone? Even a kind word or an acknowledgment that our neighbor is hurting. We have to see beyond the substance abuse and see the hurting person underneath, and then we will see more clearly how to love. When we remember that we are all human and that we are all in this suffering world together. 

To my beloved friend Paul, you were not alone. You are missed and will always be remembered. Lord God have mercy and eternal rest grant unto Paul and all of those who have died from substance use and suicide.

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Written by
Alexandra Bochte