I posted this graphic on Facebook and before I was done adding the text to the description, it had been shared three times. Within 12 hours, it was shared 32 times that I know of. People apparently can relate to the sentiment. It certainly is a call to give alms, but it is more than that. One can throw money at a beggar’s cup or hat and barely give him a glance. That is hardly “finding Christ.” Consider the care and reverence we are instructed to give in preparation to approach the chalice. Was St. John so audacious as to suggest that we need to take similar care and preparation to approach the beggars among us? My recent experience leads me to answer most emphatically YES!
The text I added while the first three shares were happening is this quote from an older newsletter:
I try to tell each of our volunteers to pray this prayer: “Dear Lord, please let me see what it is that you love about this person.” God loves everyone I meet, because there is something uniquely lovable about them. Each person, no matter how difficult or twisted, in a special and unrepeatable way bears and reflects the image of God. Ask the Lord to let you get a peek at what that is. When God answers this prayer it breaks your heart and fills it with grace and mercy.
You can prepare and still not be prepared. Life is just that messy and just that glorious sometimes.
I have been working with poor people, mentally ill people, violent criminals, homeless people, people dying of AIDS, transvestites and homosexuals who wanted to change, drug addicts, etc., for nearly thirty years. I have been poisoned to no effect. I have had guns pulled on me. I have been rescued by angels. I’m generally still too naive to be afraid of most situations. Last Thursday night, when I tried to give the coins away in honor of St. Nicholas, it didn’t go so well.
The other year, we just gave them out at the end of the serving line. I decided to try that. As soon as I did, I was mobbed by people getting out of line just to crowd around to get the coins. Undaunted, I moved away from the line and was still mobbed. So I stood on the short retaining wall and asked them to line up. Some of them complied. Several, who claimed to be helping me, were not complying, but standing next to me and shouting at the others. There still were too many bunched in front of me. I told a bit of the story of St. Nicholas’ redemption of the three daughters of the widower and proceeded to hand out coins. Guys were not moving on, but trying to get multiples. I was trying to unwrap the next roll and I dropped the bag. Two guys grabbed over $300 in coins and took off. One of the men who took coins was the one who was pretending to be the most helpful. Well, I gathered up what was left and locked them in my car. It was not a proud moment for me. I never like to take the institutional response: ‘everyone gets punished because some of you can’t behave.’ A bunch of the guys stood looking at me, waiting for coins. I said, “That was it. No more.”
The men who mobbed me and those who stole did not do what they did to disrespect me. They did it out of desperation, opportunity, and lack of faith. Two young men stole. Two dozen older men apologized in shame for their actions.
But I came with $600 to give away. I had not given it all away. I was not going to leave without giving it away. I let the crowd disperse (which is what I should have done in the first place), then I handed out three dollars to each man in line in front of my car. I know some guys got more. One man just stood there staring at me and would not move. If anyone dropped a coin, he picked it up so fast. I have to tell you, though, in the end, when it was all said and done, I had fun. I had joy. I had peace. No punches were thrown. I think I may have even found Christ in that mob. He wasn’t civilized, though.