For the past few days, I have sensed that my soul is deeply at peace—a “peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7)”, and I find myself wondering what to do with it. To whom shall I extend this gift of peace, which was, no doubt, planted in me by the Lord? I feel ashamed before Jesus, and I confess to Him that I have been hoarding this heaven-sent gift. I haven’t yet put it to any good use. Tell me, Lord, I asked, what must I do with it?
Within minutes, Jesus responded. While standing side-by-side in a long line at Wendy’s just afterwards, next to a homeless man, all bundled up in several layers of clothing, with a blanket wrapped around to protect himself from the cold, he suddenly leaned to one side and fell over, hitting the floor hard. Instinctively, I reached down to lift him up and, as I got him back to his feet, our eyes locked. What a biblical presence of gratitude began flowing within me! A rush of joy welled up inside me, realizing that this man—a stranger—had allowed me—a passerby, to help him regain his dignity! I knew at that moment that I had just encountered Christ, and I could feel precisely what Simon of Cyrene must have felt when his eyes met Christ’s on the Via Dolorosa!
The Incarnate God
As Christians, we believe that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God, which is why we are called to love our neighbor with our whole heart, because God is present in them. As he ordered his food, I noticed his blanket was being dragged in a puddle of soda that was left on the floor. When he walked to his table he left a wet trail of soda behind him. Then an image from our Lord’s passion came to me. While Jesus was caring His Cross, He was covered with blood, and Jesus would have left a trail of blood behind him. Jesus allowed His precious blood to be split on the ground (the blood of not only a man, but the blood of God also). I knew I had to sit by this man.
Remaining with Jesus
Finding a seat next to him was easy. People seemed to avoid him like the plague. Many did their best to avoid even looking at him. I watched as he sat looking at his food for a while, as if giving thanks for it. Next, he took a few huge bites of his burger, and chewed it painstakingly, having so few teeth. After he had consumed his food, he removed the lid from his styrofoam coffee cup and, as he clumsily tried to open the creamer, it dropped to the ground and he stared at it, knowing that if he reached for it, he might fall again. Seeing this, I rose from my seat, snatched the creamer off the floor, and handed it back to him. Our eyes met a second time, and I found his rheumy and blue—the kind of blue that you would see in a Floridian sky. And I saw God in them.
Not a word passed between us, but we heard each other. My own eyes began to water with the sentiment of helping one of God’s beloved children. I was infused with such a wonderful spirit of gratitude. This man has one blanket; I have three. This man has one scraggly coat; I have three new ones. As I finished my meal, I noticed him gazing out the window and, ever so gently, nodding. I mused about what thoughts might be traveling through his mind, but I could only imagine. Yet there was one thing I did know for certain— I knew that God loved him, and I knew in my heart that I loved him too.
God, we know, does not desire or will that his children should suffer, as this man obviously has; however, suffering comes into our lives through original sin and through our own sinful choices. Undoubtedly, this homeless man is not a perfect person, but even in his suffering, he can change lives. He changed mine, simply by allowing me to help him when he needed it. Love could enter into the entire world through that man. God decided to make Himself known to me through him. God gave me the eyes to see that he dwelt in that man. Jesus said to His disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.” I ask Jesus to give me the grace to live that commandment every day of my life!
(This is a reflection from my time in the pre-novitiate in 2010-2011)