This past summer, I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor at Camp GLOW. Camp GLOW is a camp run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore that serves adults with intellectual disabilities. We stayed at a retreat center for a week, where we attended daily mass in addition to a participating in a variety of typical camp activities. As I was preparing for the week, I was a bit nervous. This was my first time at Camp GLOW, while all of the other counselors had been working at there for several years. The participants were also, for the most part, Camp GLOW veterans. I wondered how everyone would react to me, a newcomer to this tight-knit group.
When I arrived, I experienced what I can only describe as an outpouring of love. I wasn’t just accepted into their community—I was embraced (figuratively and literally!) Even though I was a stranger to their community, I was welcomed in, and I was filled with a sense of freedom that came from an openness to loving and being loved as I have never experienced before. There was genuine joy at Camp GLOW because love resided there. There was love in the form of smiles, of kind words, of laughter. We shared stories, confided our fears, comforted each other when we were afraid or upset, and rejoiced in each other’s happiness.
I think that the community that I was welcomed into at Camp GLOW exemplifies the kind of community that we, as Catholics, are called to embody, because it moved beyond acceptance to love. How often are we encouraged to accept people who are different from us? We are constantly told to accept people with intellectual disabilities. To accept people who are experiencing poverty or homelessness. To accept people of different faiths. But is acceptance enough? The problem with mere acceptance is that it does not satisfy that deep desire within us to be loved and cherished. Accepting others means that we will not reject them because of their differences. We will tolerate them; we will allow them to occupy the same space and time as us. But simply accepting others will not unite us—it will not lead us to rejoice in other’s happiness and suffer alongside each other in our pain.
When Jesus encountered people who were different than Him, He did more than tolerate them; He went to their homes, broke bread with them, and dwelt among them. Acceptance alone will leave us feeling unsatisfied and lonely, still thirsting for true union with one another. When I was embraced into the community of Camp GLOW, I felt nourished and refreshed. My uniqueness wasn’t just tolerated—it was celebrated. I was free to share myself with others, as they shared themselves with me. We are called to go beyond acceptance; we are called to embrace differences, to welcome with open arms, to love. This is the only thing that will satisfy the longing within our hearts to experience the freedom of openly giving and receiving love.