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The needs of others are rarely convenient

Patricia McCarthy, CND

There are times when you wish you didn’t see what you saw or hear what you heard, because the situation meant you had to do something. And you were busy or tired or fed up with the needs of others. Some call it fate. Christians refer to it as an opportunity of grace, of meeting Christ when you least feel like it.

Literature and film are replete with stories based on “chance” meetings. Samuel Taylor Coleridge begins his famous story of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with such an encounter:

It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

A few centuries later one of the greatest films of all times expresses a similar occurrence as Humphrey Bogart reacts to a chance meeting with a former girlfriend: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

Something similar happened recently outside a large church before the early morning Mass. A homeless man, without shoes, walked into the church and sat over on one side, knelt down and put his head in his hands resting on the pew in front of him. Another man noticed him and wanted to help. He stopped another one going into church also and explained the situation. What could be done?

It would be hours before stores opened. Soup kitchens and drop-in centers for the homeless were shuttered. They went into church, clearly disturbed and unsure what to do. Eucharist and a man without shoes are connected at the deepest theological level.

On the way back from receiving communion, one of the persons who saw the shoeless man went and sat in the pew next to him. She removed her own sandals, adjusted them to fit the man and put them on his feet. She then left the church barefoot herself and got into her car. She said it was no big deal she had other sandals at home.

The needs of others are rarely convenient, often feel like a disruption in our plans and schedules. The man beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was seen by a priest and a Levite as a nuisance and they both passed by. The Good Samaritan was surely also inconvenienced but he could not ignore the plight of the stranger. He stopped, he cleaned and bandaged his wounds and carried him to an inn to further care for him. He continued on his journey the next day but not before paying for the man’s continued care.

No one in the United States needs to be walking our city streets without shoes. Whatever we can do, we must do. It is the way of Jesus. It is the way of the Eucharist. Especially now that the first hints of cold weather are coming in with our fall evenings. Think boots and think Christ. Foregoing a couple weeks of coffee trips to Starbucks or Dunkin could buy a new pair of boots for Christ this winter. Put a pair of thermal socks in them and drop them off at any shelter or soup kitchen.

Surely the poor need the boots, but perhaps most importantly we have to learn that being faced with the needs of others are not chance encounters but gifts from God to us. We see the face of God in such meetings as much as we do in Eucharist.

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic




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