I know that one important part of our Lenten observances is the practice of almsgiving. And it’s probably the one that I’m least good at doing. It is easy to preach about charity to the poor, but what is my reaction when a homeless person is holding up a sign asking for help when I’m in my car? I just want traffic to get moving again. Too often on city streets, I get bothered if someone asks me for money, as I don’t know what the money might be used for. Poverty was easier to deal with in East Africa because in just about every parish we had there, the majority of people were poor. It wasn’t attached to mental illness or drug addiction, which made it seem less threatening to me.
Then I find out that some of our parish families routinely make sandwiches and take them to give to the homeless on the weekends. Just some parents and their kids standing on a street corner practicing a corporal work of mercy. What an impact it must make on the recipients of such kindness. This meal isn’t coming from a soup kitchen or a shelter, but from the kitchen in someone’s home.
I was therefore recently struck by a quote of Dorothy Day’s, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, where she wrote, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” It hit me right between the eyes. I saw that I too, often look with human eyes and not with God’s eyes when it comes to making distinctions among the poor. No matter their appearance or state of sobriety, they are Christ.
I know that the solution is two-fold. The first is simply making the essential connection between the body of Christ in the Eucharist and the body of Christ in the poor. St. John Chrysostom insisted, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”
The second is simply to befriend the poor, and to commit to spending time with them. Our parish offers these opportunities through our involvement with Kenton Women’s Village and St. Vincent De Paul. And our Holy Cross sister parish, St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church, exists to serve the poor downtown. One of our parishioners carries food twice a week to little pockets of the homeless within a short radius of our parish. We also had a crew of parishioners just return from a special mission trip to Guatemala.
Our distinctions and opinions about the poor evaporate in the experience of rubbing shoulders with them, listening to their stories, serving them and sharing a meal with them. And to the extent I can learn to more consciously engage the poor as my brothers and sisters, as Christ’s chosen ones, the richer I am in turn.
Yours in Christ,