Out on the streets, you’ll see all kinds of people — angry souls, lost souls, blissfully ignorant souls. Some will be dressed in torn clothes or carrying shopping bags with all their possessions in them. Others will be dressed to the nines on their way to dinner. Still others will have barely any clothes on. Some will be hand in hand with members of the same sex. Some will have skin that’s a different color from yours or will clearly come from a faraway country.
As missionaries of Christ, we sometimes take shortcuts, out of laziness or pride or even an attempt at efficiency: “That one can’t possibly be a Catholic.” “No point in wasting my time on those two.” “My goodness, it would be embarrassing just to be seen speaking with that one!”
These thoughts are temptations of the devil, making us doubt one of the central tenets of our Faith: we are all children of a loving God, even those of us who don’t know we are or have forgotten we are or don’t want to be. And if we are all children of the same God, then we are also brothers and sisters in Christ.
And we all possess a special dignity, which is the image of God within us.
Velasquez grasped this point so clearly in his masterpiece, “Juan de Pareja”. Incredible, really. Velasquez is famous for sure of his many great paintings of the Spanish court. But if you Google him, you will find at the top of the queue, right next to one such courtly image, is this masterpiece, a painting of a simple servant with tattered clothes in the poise of a king. In God’s eyes, we are all kings. And the servants most of all.
So a key disposition of the missionary must be to engage every single person we meet as a child of God, with all the dignity that that phrase implies. This missionary disposition alone can turn what could have been a very weak and uneventful encounter into a successful one.
There is something else, by the way, that is very special about Juan de Pareja. He had the gift of humility, next week’s path.