“Uh, Mom?” my son said, motioning towards the window of our parked car.
Outside the window, uncomfortably close, stood a slight woman, her face lined with age. I rolled down the window.
With nary an introduction, the words starting pouring out. Decades ago, she had come from deep in the South. She had worked in the circus, had been a barn hand, a stage hand, a waitress, and a house cleaner. She wanted to know where the circus went. She was looking for a job.
I told her it had closed.
She asked what the city thought about the homeless people sleeping on the benches at the bus stops.
I told her I didn’t know.
She said, with a hint of condescension in her voice, “Well, do they kick them out?”
I said, “I’m sorry; I really don’t know.”
She asked where the soup kitchen was. I told her it was the next town over, but it wasn’t open this day. With a sparkle in her eye, she recounted how she had heard that they served three meals a day.
She wanted to know if I knew of any rooms that were open. She said all the homeless shelters were full. I said I didn’t.
I offered her money to buy a meal down the road. She refused the money. She looked at me earnestly and said, “Oh, I am just so sick of fast food. It gives me a stomachache. I just want a room with four walls and three solid meals a day.” She swiveled on her heel and walked away. She was worn, but she was strong.
I felt my responses were inadequate.
He stood in the middle of the shopping plaza parking lot. On this day, the usually silent plaza air was awash in the joyous sound of his bandoneon. People talked and swayed and smiled. Here was a real virtuoso, giving away his gift for free. His wife, who would occasionally tap the tambourine in rhythm, held a sign that said “Donations.”
I went into a store and came out a few minutes later. Silence. Where had the music gone?
I found the couple against a wall, bandoneon locked away in its case. Deep smile lines led to eyes that belied a certain vulnerability. Having traversed many borders to be standing here in this plaza, they appeared weary and hungry. I looked for the donations jar. She said they had to put it away because the plaza manager had asked them to stop playing. I offered a donation. Her husband ran to buy a sandwich.
Silenced. Unwanted. Their gifts became invisible. They became invisible.
Again, I felt my response was inadequate.
Two encounters in two days—hunger knocking on my door. Followers of St. Ignatius are called to be contemplatives in action. So I contemplated. I asked myself what my action would be. What was God calling me to do?
I remembered Pope Francis’s words:
This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us….in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. (Evangelii Gaudium 198)
In this context, we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. (EG 188)
Driving to church that evening, I prayed. “I’m just one person. These are huge, overwhelming, systemic problems. What is it that you want from me?”
As I pulled into the church lot, I read the marquee: “Soup kitchen needs Tuesday meal cooks.”
I got the message. My contribution won’t solve world hunger, but it’s a start.
I like your article. I am able to feel the same emotions as you explain each encounter. Thank you for taking the time to document and challenge us to hear what God is saying to us in real-world encounters. It reminded me of a book that a friend of mine just wrote on how to make space hear what people are saying (and what God is doing) in each situation; The book is called “Real Talk” by Dr. Mark Good. He’s a psychologist that finally took the time to write down all the things God had taught him in his career about how to really listen to people!
I just love your writing- wonderful storytelling with such a gentle yet powerful punch. What I appreciate about my little contribution at the soup kitchen is the friendships I build with those who evanglize to me
The power of one, indeed! I see it everywhere and yet I am so hesitant to come forward. I do hope your article has given me a good shake.
Awhile ago I learned through St. Mother Teresa, you can’t help all in need. I donate time weekly at our church’s food closet. In the time I have done this work I have gained much more than the folks that come for food. The kinship alone is worth far more than money could can buy. Most of these people are in a place we cannot imagine and are so deserving of the little help that we provide. Give it a try. You will grow immensely
What a great article. It brought tears to my eyes as I reflected on some of my own inadequate responses. In fact, I was just asking God the other day what my calling was. I believe He just gave me an answer through your article.
Brilliant! If you can do Tuesdays I’ll see what I can do!
Very well communicated. As the Apostle James states that we should not just be hearers of the Word but those that respond to Gods Word.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
One by one as we give our heart to Christ, we become food for the world. We sometimes see the overall problem of hunger and homelessness as so huge we do not know how we can help. But God in His goodness allows us to help one on one, oft times drawing us into the larger response in a small way.
Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more!
God’s message was VERY APPARENT ❣
Yes, it was, wasn’t it! Can’t get much more direct than having my answer in black-and-white! I love it when God is that direct!