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Seeing and being the face of Jesus

I first learned of mirror neurons during a program on compassion at the Servite Center for Compassion, the spirituality center sponsored by the Servants of Mary. The 1990s discovery of these neurons offered fascinating insight into many behaviors, learning skills and even the neurological cause for empathy.

These brain cells cause us to respond to what we see or experience in a like manner, offering an explanation to why it is that our emotions and demeanor imitate those of whom we encounter.

I have often thought about this phenomenon since first learning about it and the reminder of the powerful impact of our simplest encounters.

Think about the countless experiences throughout a day when we come upon others and how we are affected: the stone-faced clerk at the gas station, the warm welcome from a co-worker, the exuberant greeting from your child when you come home, the empty or empathetic exchange walking out of Mass, the gracious smile from the grocery store sacker.

Think about our immediate responses to those moments. According to researchers, our brain causes us to react in a similar manner, both physically and subsequently, emotionally. Smile for smile; joy for joy. Stone face for stone face; empty for empty. We know the power of these everyday moments and the chain reaction. But who is responding to whom? Are we the side of the mirror causing the smile or causing the stoned face?

During this Christmas season, we celebrate the first time the world saw the face of Jesus. We know that the beautiful baby in the manger was responding to the adoring faces of his blessed mother and father. We know that Mary and Joseph were seeing the face of love.

Throughout his life, Jesus spread that love through compassion, joy, forgiveness and hope. His presence changed the world, one encounter at a time. We hear so often in Scripture how Jesus "sees" people. That was the beginning of many life-giving relationships and miraculous moments. People saw his face and his was the side of the mirror that caused them to respond with the smile, the compassion, the hope that they saw in his.

Today, we can see the loving face of Jesus not only in our hearts and minds, but in those we encounter. Thus, our calling to be that face, those feet and hands is so critical in this world. We also can affect it one encounter at a time.

During these days of Advent, let us prepare ourselves to see and be the face of Jesus. Let us be diligent in that effort to be a mirror image of his love. Despite the many joyful, sparkling moments this season brings, many approach these days with trepidation and great sadness. May our faces bring them Jesus' love.

This is the greatest gift we can give this Christmas to our families, friends, those in most need and those we encounter in the simple moments of our every day.

Shannan Brommer is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development. Contact her at

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