Some words stay with you for a lifetime! Sometimes front and center. Other times they sit just beneath the surface… like a quiet motor doing its job unnoticed.
Over fifty years ago much-revered “street priest” of the diocese of Brooklyn said something that has stayed with me to this. day.
“When I first went to one of the most ravaged areas of Brooklyn, I thought I was bringing God to the poor. I quickly learned God was already there. I was on God’s turf!”
His words flooded back as I rediscovered a reflection by John Prager, CM
In this Vincentian Mindwalk I share with you some of his insights. Perhaps one or other insights will stay with you as well.
God waits for us among the poor
We do not bring Christ to the world! Quite the contrary … it is God who leads us into the midst of the world.
The poor have value in themselves: I do not reach out to the poor simply because Christ is present there. I reach out to the poor because they are my brothers and sisters who are suffering. They are a priority in the Kingdom of God and therefore, I care for the poor because they have a personal human dignity.
Christ calls us to serve the poor, not only “the good poor”:
He wonders whether Christ had such limitations in mind.
Too often we are speaking about “the good poor”, those who go to Mass, live a good moral life, share from their own poverty. I believe, however, that the call is to serve the poor, good and bad alike. We cannot ask people if they are worthy or not of our service and then care for them according to their response.
It is often those who are not loveable who will put us in contact with our own sinfulness and weakness … those who are not loveable invite us to be compassionate.
Christ invites us to enter the world of our sisters and brothers
To be a missionary is to leave one’s proper world and one’s secure place in the world in order to enter the world of the other… to accompany the poor with the gospel.
Here we are not necessarily referring to some geographical change but rather to be a missionary is to adapt oneself to the reality of the poor.
It is here that the Vincentian virtues take on an important role:
- the humility to listen and to accompany without ordering;
- the simplicity to understand my true motives with regard to mission;
- the mortification to sacrifice something of myself for the good of those who are poor;
- the gentleness to resolve cultural clashes;
- charity and evangelical zeal expressed in a desire to enter into a new world.
Prayer is not something we do for God but rather is something that God does for us. God questions us, strengthens us and points out the path of love and justice and freedom.
Charity is not simply works and projects. Rather it is an encounter between brothers and sisters.
Gustavo Gutiérrez says: You say you love the poor; what are their names?
It is unfortunately possible to serve the poor without listening to them, without giving them the respect of their identity.
St. Vincent and Louise and all our Vincentian Family heroes and heroines knew they were on God’s turf. They show us the way.
They knew God waited for them among those who society throws away.
Is God getting tired of waiting for us to understand?
When have I recognized God already in the poor?
Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk
I served 17 years as a Probation Officer. Before we could request the Court to issue an arrest warrant for an errant probationer, we had to attempt one last field visit. Early in that career, my supervisor instructed me to do so with a person on the caseload I inherited from another P.O., who had written in his notes about the man that he had said, “I will never be taken alive.”
I wasn’t sure how to approach this situation because I was both naive and apprehensive. Bracing myself for several measures of adverse confrontation, I knocked on the door to his home. After 15-20 seconds, an older woman answered the door. I identified myself and asked if he were home. She seemed suddenly wrapped with the frustration that only a caring mother has and said she didn’t know where he was. We sat and talked for about an hour about her frustrations and concerns with her son’s whereabouts and his future. It was cathartic for both of us, but I think I came out the winner in that regard.
When I would accompany a new Vincentian on a home visit, I would relate that story and inform them that, back then, I never knew what would be on the other side of the door. Now, when we do a home visit, we have a pretty good idea that Jesus will be on the other side of the door and “we need to talk.”