"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life." Corinthians 2:2
This scripture verse was recently featured in the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours (the daily prayer of the Church), and reminded me of a remarkable aspect of this ministry. There is something about this street ministry that prompts a reaction--whether for good or evil--from passerbys. Perhaps the "fragrance" of Christ comes forth in the public witness to the faith, or in the image of a heart with a crucifix emerging from it or even in a peaceful, prayerful presence. In any event, "all hearts are revealed", or some anyway, and what is revealed can be a pleasant or sorrowful surprise.
There have been many small acts of kindness, the "fragrance of life" that bring us to Christ, the source of life itself. On both very cold and very hot days, I've had tired mothers stop to kindly urge me to wear a coat or a lighter tunic as they wrangle their children at the bus stop. A simple thing for sure, but their eyes said more than their words. On another occasion a tavern-goer at Pappy's on 82nd harmlessly teased me asking, "Which of the twelve apostles are you?" But his ex-convict friend couldn't bear the teasing, and intervened, "You can't say that! Shhh, what are you saying?!" The gruff, tattooed ex-con had zeal for the Lord's house, and wouldn't brook even the smallest slight. Nowadays the tavern-goer sings gospels tunes as I pass and we have a good laugh. On another evening a young man in a souped-up Honda Civic with an over-sized muffler waited at a stop-light alongside of me. He fidgeted with his smart phone and rocked back and forth to the pounding beat of his stereo. Then he noticed me praying next to him and turned off the stereo. When the light changed to green he sped off and turned the music back up again once he crossed the intersection. I was surprised and touched by his little gesture of respect. Now there have also been many little acts of malice, and often from unexpected quarters, but they are not worth dwelling upon.
So what does it all add up to? Everything we do either builds up the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan. Or as St. Augustine wrote of it, there are two cities that were built by two loves: the love of self even to the contempt of God, and the love of God and neighbor that loves even to the contempt of self. Our small acts often reveal what city we belong to. Often times we seem to pass from one city to the other as we struggle to "run the race". Some seem to be squarely in the wrong city, as I once was. But even if we set many bricks building the wrong city, Christ loves and seeks after the poor sinner--though ultimately the choice is ours. As Christ once asked me several years ago, "How much do you love me?" We answer that question with our lives, and it can either be a glorious affirmation or a sorrowful indictment.
The Tower of Babel, a city built by self-love