The following is an excerpt from I Saw His Face written by Fr Michael Mitchell, LC.
I must admit I almost got sick when I saw my first patient.
He was a middle-aged man, about forty-five years old. His face was wrinkled and worn from hard work in the sun. His body was wasted away from malnourishment, and his skin was covered with blotches and sores. But that was nothing compared to what I noticed next. As I looked down at his wound, I saw elephantiasis for the first time… As my stomach did flip-flops, I forced myself to smile at the man and knelt before him.
Beside me the other missionaries were struggling in similar ways, and as the priest of the group, I forced myself to offer encouragement and support. It quickly proved too much for most of the group, but thankfully they were able to exit the scene gracefully in order to help the sisters inside with a large group of babies that needed medical attention. Four of us were left; two Regnum Christi consecrated women, another missionary who was a nurse, and me. And so we proceeded.
As a priest, I am a doctor of souls rather than the body. I wasn’t sure how to help him, but I tried my best…
I slowly unwound the bandages, which were stuck to his wounds and caused him pain as they were peeled back. Once the bandages were off, I proceeded to clean out the wound with cotton swabs and the solutions provided by the sisters.
After fifteen minutes spent cleaning the wound, I looked up at the man and gave him a smile—and that was when I saw Him. The eyes of the man looking straight at me smiled back at me. I remembered the line from Scripture in which Christ says: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
I had an overwhelming sensation at that moment that the man I was attending to was Christ himself…
As the minutes went by, I drifted into another world. The Haitian adoration hymns started echoing deeper in my soul, and I started cleaning out the wound with more love. I was like the woman in the Gospel at the feet of Christ washing him with her tears.
As difficult as dressing that wound was, I did not want it to end. I slowly applied the ointments and took my time binding the leg in gauze and bandages. As I finished up and took off the gloves, I stretched out my hand toward the man and traced the sign of the cross on his forehead. I looked into his eyes and knowing I was seeing Christ, I simply said, “Merci. Thank you.”
The man stood up and hobbled away. As I finally came out of that mystical state, I saw around me the other missionaries finishing up in silence the wounds of each one of the sick in a similar fashion. There were plenty of tears to go around.
I wanted to find Christ again, so I gathered the kit and sought out the next person in line.
I was hungry for more. This time I knelt before a little boy whose foot was run over by a motorcycle, followed by a woman with burns on both her shins, a boy with burns all down his back from falling into a fire, and lastly an old man with only a stump for a foot.
The wounds I saw that day were so repulsive that cleaning them was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. However, I must say with total sincerity that it was also the most beautiful thing I have ever done. After two hours we were finished; the time had simply flown by. All the while the adoration next door continued. We were all quite somber as we gathered together to leave. Each one knew that at that moment something beautiful had happened. There, in one of the darkest and most miserable places on the planet, Christ had come to dwell. He walked among us for two hours; we felt his presence everywhere, and for a short while we were no longer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti—we were in heaven.
I have since returned many times to that clinic to help dress wounds, and I cherish each and every second I can spend there with Christ. The missionaries I take are always moved to tears. I have seen them embrace the sick and later only stammer as they try to put into words what the experience was like.
Christ is not simply a historical figure from the past.
Experiences of Christ such as these are what continue to allow him to shape and change lives two thousand years after his ascension. These experiences, together with the sacraments of the Church, make me love being a Catholic. It pains me to think that so many people don’t know who Christ is, who for whatever reason have never experienced him. A life without Christ makes no sense. A life without Christ ultimately is not worth living. Period. No wonder we see so much pain and despair around us as liberal humanity continues to run from the Gospel at breakneck speeds and strives to stamp out any mention of God from society.
Vatican II, the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, rightly sums this up: in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.
At the end of this book, Christ, the merciful and majestic King, will still be a mystery. No book can encompass him or reveal the depths of his love and mercy for mankind. However, it is my sincere wish that my missionary stories and the Regnum Christi charism I have received will inspire all those who read about them to know the person of Jesus Christ better and to love him more deeply. Our Lord himself sincerely wishes to become part of your life so that through you he may reach many other souls who are lost without him.
Jesus Christ is a treasure that we are called to share with others.
He is not a special secret in our lives that we value quietly and keep safely locked up somewhere. Christ longs to be shared with others. May this book be a step in that direction.