A couple of years ago, I participated in an Ozanam orientation which provided significant insight into the history, spirituality, organization and activities of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. While I have never considered any major fears, biases or judgments about my work among the poor, I recognize the natural human inclination for some is to feel troubled about the injustice that gives rise to the hardship and the suffering of the poor and marginalized.
Amidst the current coronavirus pandemic, I am aggrieved at the circumstances of so many families throughout Central Texas who are enduring the effects of unemployment, stay-at-home orders and remote learning due to in-person schooling being restricted. The lack of adequate childcare resources further impacts the ability of parents to work and provide sustenance for their families. In these circumstances people are unable to work through no fault of their own.
I know very well how it feels to grow up poor. I know what it feels like to grow up without all my needs and wants met. I know what it feels like to struggle under the weight of poverty, privation and hardship. As a child, it’s no picnic to witness the joyful experiences of one’s friends as a result of their families’ resources. However, at this point in my life, I accept the obligation to meet people in their circumstances to provide hope as the Lord impels me to stretch out my own arms and hands to help my neighbors in need.
SPIRITUAL GROWTH DEMANDS THAT,
IN REACHING OUT TO OUR NEIGHBORS,
WE WILL SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS,
SEEING THE FACE OF CHRIST
IN EVERY PERSON WE SERVE.
Notwithstanding the psychological or sociological scars people may possess, we must endeavor to see the face of Christ in each person. In the faces of the many, I am hopeful that God will constantly prepare me to face my own shortcomings, imperfections and weaknesses. These realizations will then remind me of how very blessed I am to be able to help others.
Just before Christmas, I participated in a couple of pastoral field experiences, Camp Esperanza and the Vincentian Family Center. In each of these experiences, I genuinely encountered persons and families who were in critical need of sustenance, money and work. They included veterans, working poor, unemployed and people experiencing homelessness. One encounter was with a woman who, even after having succumbed to a life on the street, works arduously to be a source of hope by sharing with others the little sustenance she has for herself. Another encounter was with an ex-offender who had just been released from incarceration. Looking for a fresh start, he discussed the perceived stigma of having been incarcerated and what that will mean moving forward as he attempts to put his life back together.
One of the greatest takeaways from my encounters is that each of us is on a pilgrimage. Let no one be duped into thinking the present age is an end. As I encountered my neighbors — my brothers and sisters — I was reminded that giving of myself for the good of others is providing shelter to Jesus Christ. These neighbors with whom I served taught me that while they are “houseless,” they are not necessarily “homeless.” These encounters provided multiple opportunities for me to welcome Christ. God reveals himself in the least of our brothers and sisters.
Considering my own humble and meager beginnings, the Lord reveals yet again that I, too, but for the grace of God, could be where each of our neighbors are. Consequently, I have more work to do in the vineyard, and it is noble work that lacks society’s view of glamour and prestige. I pray we will all partake in the good work of encountering and welcoming the stranger, the impoverished, the ex-offender, the traveler and the pilgrim.