Peering Into Eyes Calling For Help

Posted on June 13, 2022 by Published by

From time to time deacons receive well-deserved but unsolicited accolades from admirers appreciating uncompensated small and big acts of selflessness. Often at a loss for words to respond, a humble smile might be a very common response.

Pressed further, the deacon might be asked, “C’mon, what made you do it? Why did you put yourself so much into helping out?” Speaking personally, as a deacon for 34 years, I have often struggled to provide a satisfying answer to this question. Especially now, immersed in missionary-like work in Uganda, East Africa, helping healthcare workers tend sick and dying, I face that question over and over. What makes you do it?

Prayerfully, there are many good theological explanations. Long ago for me, sound rational reasons were made clear in formation and training. There was a mysterious “calling” that prompted a general spiritual response. In a formal response, every deacon confronts questions prior to ordination, “What will make me respond? Am I ready and willing to go forward, living out a lifetime of God-inspired personal sacrifices? What is the essence of my willingness to respond to numerous requests and demands, and to engage my inner drive to love and serve?”

In 1990, truck driver Rick Swope heroically jumped into a moat in a Detroit zoo, bent on saving a chimp he observed drowning (chimps cannot swim). Afterwards, Swope was asked, “What made you do it?” Rick replied, “Well, you see, I happened to look into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man, and the message was, ‘Won’t anybody help me?’” Reflecting on the incident, Jane Goodall offered a personal comment and interpretation, “If you see that look with your eyes, and you feel it in your heart, you have to jump in and try to help.”

In my work in the parish, larger diocese and community, and often these days in ministry in Uganda, I make a point of peering into the eyes of those I meet. I pause and stop for a moment to get a sense, a message revealed. I am increasingly aware of the gift that we deacons have, as we are immersed in the life of community in so many and varied situations. Times of joy, sparkling eyes of babies at baptism. Hopeful eyes, preparing a couple for marriage. Fearful eyes of those facing surgery or cancer. Painful eyes of loss and grief. Eyes of a bewildered person dealing with memory loss. Regretful eyes of those who made a mistake. Peaceful eyes at communion. Eyes seeking help in desperation, like those of the struggling chimp. Won’t anybody help me?

My ministry alongside midwives, doctors and nurses has awakened a deeper connection to the gift that is to be appreciated among the healing community. The eyes, the hand holding of babies and moms dying and being cured of malaria fever, present moments of life and death bonding by placing ourselves in God’s light. In God’s light the eyes see the questions on the lips of a person who does not have to utter a word. Won’t anybody help me?

“If you see that look with your eyes, and you feel it in your heart, you have to jump in and try to help.”

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