This morning it is raining in my neck of the woods. It was accompanied by thunder and lightning, and yet it was a gentle and warm rain. As I was pulling into the parking garage, I noticed the trolley bus was pulling up to the stop outside. Good, I thought. I won’t have to walk in the rain.
But as it turns out, this particular bus driver is one of the impatient ones. As I was walking towards the exit of the garage, he motored off. Truthfully, I didn’t think much of this because I usually walk up to the office anyway. I just opened up my umbrella and kept on going, like the fellow in Merle Keller’s painting here.
My walk takes me by the new bus transit center that was opened recently. As I stood at the cross walk waiting for the light to change, I noticed with some amusement that a brand new sign proclaimed that our town was designated a “Solar City” by the Department of Energy. This must be because of the lone solar panel at work at the bus station. It’s the only one I’ve seen in town.
As it was raining, there were only a few of us walking. Pretty soon I learned why I was walking too. I noticed a man up ahead coming towards the station as I was walking past it. By his appearance, and by the reception he was getting from the other pedestrians, I knew he was a homeless person. Most treat them like lepers, but I no longer do.
As he approached me now, he asked if he could ask me a question, and to his great surprise I said Sure. You would have thought I had given him $1000. He asked if he could step under my umbrella as he talked and I said Absolutely. By now, you’re thinking I have a death wish or something, right?
Then he just thanked me for even noticing him. He said that most whom he approached wouldn’t even look at him. That is the “homeless person equals leper” effect at work. It’s not a new phenomenon, having been around forever. He didn’t want to give me a sob story or anything, he said, but he only wanted to ask me if I would give him a blessing.
Having no money on me, I tried to give him my apple and orange but he insisted that he only wanted a blessing and nothing more. I agreed to this immediately and I told him I would pray for him right away. I asked him for his name and he told me, “Vernon.”
“Vernon,” I said, “I will keep you in my prayers.” He thanked me profusely, stepped out from under my umbrella, and continued his walk towards the bus station. I resumed my walk towards the office, but now with mental prayers rising up to heaven for Vernon.
I had never seen Vernon before, and quite honestly that is the case with most of my encounters with the homeless. No “regulars,” just passing strangers. In a post yesterday, I wrote that I don’t spend much energy worrying about things I cannot have an effect on. But I’m also well aware of these words written by St. Teresa of Avila,
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Why did I talk to Vernon? Because the homeless, the beggars on the streets, are people that have a name. They are people with a story, and with wants and needs. And they are like you and me, except we are one tragedy removed from being in their shoes. Would it surprise you that they may just want a hug?
Maybe I was like the lone solar panel in my town which makes the whole enchilada a “Solar City.” The one bit of yeast helping the whole loaf to rise. It’s Lent, and Lent is for alms giving. This is what we do. Ayn Rand, with her leaven of the Pharisees, wouldn’t like it one bit. So I knew it was the right thing to do.
|St. Francis gives his mantle|
to a beggar
Perhaps Vernon is an angel in disguise. St. Francis of Assisi, even before his conversion, handled beggars like this,
He was not one of those typical society men who hardly have a penny to give a beggar, but willingly spend their hundreds on a champagne feast. His way of thinking was the following: “If I am generous, yes, even extravagant with my friends who at the best only say ‘thanks’ to me for them, or repay me with another invitation, how much greater grounds have I for alms giving which God himself has promised to repay a hundredfold?”
This was the inspiring life thought of the Middle Ages, which here carried out the genially literal and genially naive translation of the words of the gospel: “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” Francis knew — as the whole Middle Ages knew it — that not even a glass of cold water, given by the disciples, would remain unpaid and unrewarded by the Master.
Therefore a pang went through his heart when, one day as there was a crowd in the shop, and he was in a hurry to get through, he had sent a beggar away. “If this man had come from one of my friends,” said he to himself, “from Count this or Baron that, he would have got what he asked for. Now he comes from the King of kings and from the Lord of lords, and I let him go away empty-handed. I even gave him a repelling word.” And he determined from that day on to give to every one who asked him in God’s name — per amor di Dio, as the Italian beggars still are wont to say.
And so have I. I don’t have much in a material way to give. Just some spare change, or an apple and an orange, or an uneaten lunch. But “hey brother, can you spare a prayer?” will always be answered in the affirmative and always given freely (even when it isn’t asked for).