Reach out and touch somebody's hand

Friday, November 20, 2015 - Updated: 6:00 am

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Sept. 12 has long come and gone. I waited for that date for months. Very good friends of mine were taking me to the Diana Ross concert at the Benedum. It was their birthday gift to me.

Yes, Sept. 12 has long come and gone. The concert was everything I hoped it would be and more. With my Medicare I.D. marking me as a card-carrying member of the baby boomers, Diana Ross helped our generation grow up along with the likes of the Beatles, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and many others.

From the first moment she stepped onto the stage, Diana Ross was the Motown diva she has earned the right to be. She was beautiful. Her outfits spectacular. Her demeanor over-the-top friendly. Her voice simply perfect.

And for nearly two straight hours, nonstop, save for several wardrobe changes, she sang all of her hits, from “Stop in the Name of Love” to “Baby Love” to “Endless Love” and on and on and on.

And we the audience sang along, tapped our toes, rose out of our seats, raised our arms, clapped our hands and some even danced in the aisles as she led us in a wonderful eve of going back down memory lane.

As I thought of a message I could share with you in this column, one of her songs came to mind: “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.” That 1970 hit had us that September night joining hands with the people around us even if we didn’t know them. We did so at the invitation of Diana. And no one hesitated for even a moment.

Sept. 12 is long come and gone. The concert is over. The anticipation satisfied. The celebration now a memory. But that song — “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” — an invitation for sure! And one that is so much needed, especially TODAY.

Small moments of evangelization

Take a little test. The next time you are at a restaurant or in a fast-food place, check how many people are sitting together, yet staring at their smartphones. Do the same thing on a bus or even at the ballpark. I was outside the theater after a movie and a group of teenage girls and boys came out together. They all went immediately to their phones to call someone, look up something, check their Facebook, tweet, whatever. The people they were with seemed to just disappear.

We need a new campaign to “reach out and touch somebody’s hand.” If we want and hope to bring souls to Christ, we need to reach out in this world where we have allowed ourselves to become so isolated.

Remember the first time most of us saw Pope Francis? He was on the papal balcony, just having been elected the successor of St. Peter. The square below him was packed with thousands upon thousands of people waving and cheering. He asked them for their blessing. Then he lowered his head, and bowed from the waist to silently receive that blessing — from them, and from the whole world.

I wonder how many were brought to Christ in that humble papal gesture. I wonder how many had their faith deepened by that simple act.

Pope Francis is a master of the small moments of evangelization. His pilgrimage to Cuba and America was filled with such little things, such small acts that took perhaps only a few seconds but in their own way moved mountains. Blessing the handicapped child, touching the cheek of a soul reaching out to him, asking for the kind thoughts of the non-believers who do not pray. And sometimes just smiling broadly.

His patron, St. Francis of Assisi, said it famously: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” And: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

The Holy Father is a daily example of living evangelization. He is a reminder to each of us that we never know when or where a small gesture on our part — a kindness, a soft word, a smile — can make all the difference.

Evangelization begins in the small moments of reaching out. That means in particular how we reach out to those who are suffering, to those in need of mercy, to those looking for a sense of forgiveness in their own lives when things have gone wrong.

This is what Pope Francis has been calling us to every day. He has told us over and over again that we cannot preach great theological principles to the walking wounded. We need first to bind up those wounds, to reach out and touch someone with healing, with hope, with charity. Evangelization comes from such loving outreach.

It is said that if our day holds a moment when we laugh, a moment when we cry and a moment when we pray, we’ve had a pretty good day. Let’s add to that a moment when we reach out, a moment of forgiveness to that list.

Leave no one behind

It is the small things that matter as the big things come naturally from them. The pilgrimage begins with one small step. Bringing a soul to the friendship of Jesus begins in the same small way.

Our Blessed Mother Teresa said once that she felt so terribly sorry for Americans. It seemed an odd comment to make about the richest country in the world from a woman who worked every day with the poorest of the poor. But she explained that Americans — perhaps because of being surrounded by and immersed in so many material things — became isolated from each other. She said that we seemed to be the loneliest people she encountered. It is perhaps even truer today as we stare at our smartphones.

Let’s try together not to leave anyone behind, not to leave anyone hurting. Let’s try through the simple, small moments of our lives to “reach out and touch somebody’s hand” with the love and mercy of Jesus.

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