By Alec Gubics
As I begin my work at Taller de José, I have been re-reading a book called the Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything. It is an introduction to the spirituality that the Jesuits, an order of Catholic priests and brothers, have practiced since their founding (I really recommend it!). I recently came across a reflection that the author, Fr. James Martin, SJ, wrote about Jesus healing a blind man. Jesus is described as approaching the blind beggar only after the poor man yells at him: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The author notes that “the blind man, who has probably been ignored for most of his life, wants Jesus to notice him”.
It just so happens that one of my first clients at Taller de José is a blind man. Alberto* has been forced to live with this condition due to a car accident he experienced ten years ago. Although he was able escape the wreck with severe injuries, his wife completely abandoned him and took their son with her. Alberto understandably had an extremely difficult time coping with such a tragedy, falling into a deep depression and alcoholism. However, after years of struggle, Alberto has made an incredible amount of progress and is in a stable and supportive living situation. Whenever I speak with Alberto, he is always cracking jokes and making me laugh. He reminds me to not get so down on my problems. If Alberto can have a positive outlook on life, I sure can too.
Reading about the blind man in the Gospel helped me more fully understand the potential of Taller de José’s ministry. I recognized how, like Jesus in the gospel story, I hold a privileged position of power in relation to Alberto. Without my assistance, Alberto can’t order his own prescriptions, take public transportation or even look up a phone number. When I help Alberto in these ways, I recognize how I am also helping to accomplish the mission that God him/herself began two thousand years ago. For the time, I understand what us Christians mean by saying that we each share in the priestly ministry of Jesus. Just as ordained priests pass on the miracle of God’s grace through sacraments and blessings, I and my fellow compañeras perform the miracle of giving sight to our clients, who are often “blind”. Some don’t see a way out of their desperation before coming to our office. Some don’t know that free counseling services exist for them as they leave an abusive relationship. Others don’t see that there are food pantries right in their neighborhood church.
While I am grateful for the opportunity to help others live fuller lives, I know I too am blind in my own way. Through the gift of their trust, my clients have shown me facets of society from which I have been sheltered in my life. More than anything, my clients’ experiences have taught me how easily the poor and isolated fall through the cracks in our society. Through my accompaniments all over Chicago, I am beginning to understand how endless, exhausting and confusing it can be to drag yourself out of a hole with poverty and fear weighing you down. I pray that I continue to learn from my clients so that I can help our world better see and understand those who silently suffer in our blind spots.
*All stories are based on real client stories, but names and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.