Grace to you!
At Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield where I serve as a priest, there is a ministry that meets every Monday evening. It is called The Little Flower Society. This society emulates the example of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, a humble holy nun who died in the later part of the 18th century in France and whose life has inspired many people across the world.
The ministry gathers the homeless, averaging 300 people every Monday, to serve them good food, pray with them and encourage them. From time to time I visit the ministry and it makes me more connected with the situation of the really poor; those who have no clothes, no money, no food, who may not have taken their bath in weeks, and who may not have had someone say to them, “I love you.” Visiting them is always a humbling experience for me, a rare opportunity for self-discovery. No matter how I pretend everything is okay, I am confronted by the reality of the poor, and I am also reminded of the faces of poverty in Africa, Asia, South America and many other parts of the world.
There is something about meeting people where they are, which is revealing as well as humbling. The real world, meeting people where they are, makes us truly human as well as grateful for who we are and what we have. Self-discovery could as well happen when we stop and notice.
Jesus many times stopped and noticed people, real people not those on video games or movies. Those movies are unreal. The Gospel of Mark 6:34 shows Jesus was constantly in touch with the real world, not only with those who live in glass houses. He noticed the people were in need of knowledge and food, like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34). He therefore empowered them by His teaching because “Knowledge is power.” He also gave them food by performing what is called the miracle of feeding the five thousand. Jesus was truly at home with his people, all of us, like a shepherd to his sheep. Borrowing a concept from Pope Francis, I would say that Jesus smelled like his sheep.
In addition to the example of Jesus, let me borrow from the life of a man who is honored today in the Catholic Christian tradition. His name is John Neumann. Saint John Neumann was a priest and a bishop of Philadelphia. He smelled like his sheep. He stopped and noticed; compassionate to the plight of his people. He got his shoes dirty by being with them where they were. He was at home with his sheep.
It was said that once on a visit to Germany, he was drenched by rain and his host politely suggested he changed his shoes. He replied, “The only way I could change my shoes is by putting the left one on the right foot and the right one on the left foot since this is the only pair I own.”
May I ask: Did we stop and notice people around us? How connected are we with the real world, where artificial beauties do not cover reality? Don’t you realize that many times we discover ourselves by stopping and noticing others around us?
God love you. God bless you.