Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Francis Teaches me to see Jesus in His Need through the Poverty of the Poor.

Recently a client came in and sat down in my narrow cubicle. Within moments the smell of his BO assaulted me. I found myself gagging with nausea. My client is homeless, mentally ill (schizophrenic), very alone in the world and on the streets. I have smelled a lot of terrible things in the world but his stench was something serious. I had to see him for our monthly interview but I felt the need to rush the interview and get him out of my cubicle as quickly as possible.

I am a Secular Franciscan, a disciple of Francis of Assisi, and I had recently read these words of St. Francis, 'Whoever says anything evil to a poor man, insults Christ by it, for the poor man bears the mark of Christ’s nobility, who made Himself poor for us in this world'.

Francis had great devotion for the poor and made it clear to the brothers how the poor should be treated - with dignity and compassion. Francis says a poor man bears the mark of Christ's nobility, explaining that Jesus 'made Himself poor for us'. By choosing to be poor Christ taught us to look beyond the misery and ugliness of poverty and see Him and His love.

I didn't blame the man for his stench since I knew that he was probably more concerned about food, staying safe and dealing with the mental delusions he suffered than about staying clean. However, battling my nausea was difficult making it hard to focus on him and his needs.

St. James had said, "to know to do good but not to do it is a sin". Our Church tells us that sins of 'omission' are just as serious as those of 'commission'. He said we should not just avoid doing harm but seek to 'do good' to others when given the opportunity.

I knew this man was lonely - had no friends or family to speak of - and I knew that living on the street - living in fear of being attacked or robbed - probably made him feel stressed and vulnerable. After regaining my composure I tried to make him feel welcomed and comfortable. I made a conscious effort to ignore my nausea and to NOT hurry the interview - give him all the time he wanted. I listened to him attentively and with compassion as he told me about his difficulties and efforts to get himself in a better place. I especially tried to show appreciation for him as a person. He relaxed, actually laughed a little and seemed to leave my cubicle feeling more hopeful about life, people and the future.

Jesus said that at the last judgment He would gather all people together and say to the 'good', "When I was hungry, you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you made Me welcome; naked and you clothed Me, sick and you visited Me, in prison and you came to see Me". He concluded by saying, ". . . in so far as you did this to the least (the poorest/most needy) of these brothers of mine, you did it to Me". The 'mark of Jesus' nobility' was clear: hunger, thirst, nakedness, being a friendless stranger, being sick or in jail (criminals) and feeling alone and forgotten. Those who curse at, humiliate or ignore the poor are ignoring and despising Christ.

I won't claim that I loved as Jesus loved or that I even did some great lasting good. I know that, to serve this man, I had to 'die to self' (not ever fun!). However, this experience definitely made me feel closer to Jesus who had placed everyone else before Himself during His earthly life. The greatest gift God gave me was the realization that Jesus truly was in this man and that, even though I am spiritually blind, I could see Jesus in Him. This man, my brother, left me feeling good about himself and I could tell that, at least in some small measure, he had felt Jesus' gentle touch.
Peace to you all!

For a more in depth scriptural/theological exploration of this theme check out my sister blog:

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