Montreal subway line. Photo by Alex Krasavtsev/Flickr

Peter Stockland: A Gospel moment on the Green Line

By 
  • March 21, 2019

I’ve begun to call it the Gospel on the Green Line.

Just before Ash Wednesday this year, I was making my usual Tuesday commute on the Montreal Metro line that runs through the heart of downtown. The first thing I noticed in the car was three Indigenous people: a man and a woman roughly middle-aged, and an older woman with no teeth. The second thing I noticed was myself judging them. Not in a harsh or racist way. In a kind lukewarm programmatic way that just might, because of its very banal self-satisfaction, be even worse.

I saw the late winter tiredness of their jackets and boots and hats. I saw their faces uncertain of their surroundings. No indifferent urban morning commuters, they. They crowded into each other in a small circle not because the Metro car was crowded, but because they didn’t belong. And because they knew they didn’t belong.

I judged that they were going to some place they did “belong” — a placed called Cabot Square across Ste. Catherine Street from what, long ago, was the Montreal Forum. It’s a gathering place for a lot of Indigenous people in Montreal, meaning it’s a place for the poor, for those struggling with addictions and afflictions.

I judged, and something powerful made me aware of own presumption at calling myself a Christian, a Catholic, when I was so ready to reduce three of God’s children to de-humanizing assumptions based on outward appearance.

Then, as I watched and judged, came the Gospel moment. The man leaned and gave the younger woman a loving kiss on the cheek. The older, toothless woman said: “I keep forgetting you guys are married now. I’m so happy how happy you are.”

The younger woman answered her: “Back when we first met, you were still homeless. Remember?”

Remember? How could I have forgotten so easily?

“I was thirsty and you did not give Me anything to drink, I was a stranger and you did not make Me welcome, I lacked clothes and you did not clothe Me, was sick, and in prison and you never visited Me.  … As you have neglected the least of these, so you have neglected Me.”

Judgment such as I was passively indulging is, in many ways, the worst form of neglect. It neglects the very personhood of those we re-create in the image of our own judgments. It neglects the reality that they are already fully created in God’s image.

I’ve since harboured the suspicion that Judgment Day will feel very much like trying to get off a crowded Metro car, swept along in a tide of indifferent urban morning commuters, with your eyes blinded by glaring realization of your own interior blindness. Until the trump sounds, though, I will carry away from the experience an absolute certainty that the whole of Our Lord’s teaching can be found in what would otherwise be places of transit and rushed-through moments. 

Yet it’s about even more than just being awake to the condition of others. It is about the transfiguring power that God puts before us every single day. As our parish priest said in his homily last Sunday on the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, the operative word is moment. The true momentousness of the Transfiguration, he noted, is its literal momentariness, its very transience.

In Luke’s recording of the event, after all, Peter jumps in and wants to immediately build monuments to what he has witnessed. God has something more fleeting, albeit eternal, in mind. He simply declares Our Lord is His “chosen” and His “son.” Suddenly, Jesus is left alone. No Moses. No Elijah. Had Peter, John and James blinked, or been too lost in their own judgments to truly see, they might have missed the world’s salvation in a “mere” moment.

It’s fascinating to me, as a writer, to ponder the sort of epilogue to Luke’s Gospel, namely that the disciples do not speak of what they saw in those days. They leave it to the Evangelists to tell the world. Perhaps they knew, as I learned watching the Gospel being lived out on the Green Line, that the first place of writing must be our own hearts.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivum.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.