Last week, I posted the above image as our header on our Facebook page and it took off like wildfire. It has been shared over 40 times and viewed over 4,000 times according to Facebook stats. The number is probably much higher. Our link to donate is connected to it, both in print and as a live link. Several people have expressed their admiration for St. Maria in comments. No one has given alms to the poor through The King’s Jubilee in response. This has led me to do some more thinking about Orthodox veneration of saints. We really do like our saints, but we like them dead.
I dare say that most of the people who shared and commented on the image would probably also favor the zoning that would prohibit her from running her house of charity next door to them. She certainly exceeded most health departments’ legal occupancy limits. She lived in the cellar to make room for more. That was not an approved living space! What would that do to property values? She was a demanding woman, as well. She placed higher demands on her disciples than Jesus placed on his. Jesus only asked that if you had two coats, you should give up one. She said that you should give up your only coat to the suffering. Living saints can be insufferable. No wonder she was divorced twice!
She had what it took for the times she was facing. Our saints are human. They are not sinless. But God uses them and and shapes them in spite of and because of their flaws into just the right tools for the jobs at hand. She could smile peacefully at Nazi guards while she smuggled children out of the arena in trash cans. They were just “doing their jobs.” She was just doing hers.
The quote, “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. The way to God lies through the love of people.” This is not so hard to apply to the children in the trash cans. It is hard to apply to the Nazi guards. For years, I have had a similar saying, or rather, prayer: “Lord, with each person I meet today, let me see what it is about them that You love.” It is a terrible prayer. It breaks one’s heart when the answers come.
I believe I put the wrong image on the banner above. I once saw Gary Heidnik. I actually felt his presence, before I saw him. I was in Philadelphia City Hall waiting by the holding pen for an inmate to be released for me to take to his aftercare program, back when I was Mennonite Chaplain for Philadelphia Prisons. My back was turned, but I felt a darkness of evil. I turned around to see Gary Heidnik, the serial killer, shuffling in shackles, being escorted by two guards from the courtroom into the holding area. The hair on my neck stood on end. And all I thought was, “God is gracious. He is still giving him breath. What is there possibly left that God loves and hopes to redeem? Yet here he was, the living, breathing evidence that God ‘is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.'” I learned then, that even Gary Heidnik was the very icon of God in the world.
Jesus called us to serve “the least of these … .” Sometimes they are downright unlovely. I can be unlovely as well. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief.” People are messy. God loves us anyway, every single one of us. There are no throwaway people. We serve hundreds of people every week who many have been thrown away. Right now, it feels as though we have been thrown away. We have no paying jobs, despite looking and looking. The house is being foreclosed on. I just put one foot in front of the other to serve the poor. I have worked for 25 years without pay to keep this ministry going. If all of the people who say they like this ministry would give just $10/month, we would be able to cure the foreclosure, be fulltime in ministry, and expand our services among the poor and homeless. If everyone gave just $20/month, we would be able to get a facility, organize more volunteers, and be working a plan to end homelessness in center city Philadelphia. So, don’t just kiss the icons, like the links, and share the photos. Sentiments don’t feed the hungry or keep anyone warm on a cold winter night. We need action. We need money to pay the bills so we have a kitchen in which to cook the food and a car to deliver it. We will see over 250 homeless and poor people on Thursday. We will give each of them two meals. We will try to give blankets to those who ask for them. We will try to give those who ask for it bus fare to get to jobs. We will give a few of them rides home. We do this on your behalf and in Jesus’ Name. How many will you see, so that you can give them your alms personally? Let us deliver your alms for you. Use the Paypal button below to set up an automatic monthly donation. May God bless you as you put sentiment into action.