We were in the parking lot, debating whether to leave New York for Connecticut, or if we should stay for the "Simple Supper" that the church was putting on. We helped set up for the "Simple Supper" but really, it was starting to get late. And in my time, in my land, time is of the essence...especially if I am the one driving and then carrying two children into our apartment. Daylight was fading, and night time was ascending.
The boys, of course, were on opposing sides. One wanted to stay, the other wanted to go. What do you expect with twins? In the end, when not in agreement, I make the decision, and usually one whines and complains later (the one who did not get their way). Fairness...While we were stuck in "What is Fair Land" a woman approached me in the parking lot.
She was dressed in all black; no, not a nun - - more Goth .... (for all my religious friends you will enjoy the fact that I was able to see someone else all dressed in black, when I have tried to detox from the semi-habited - all black attire look over the last year of my life). She asked if I had any spare change and stated she had been out on the street asking people for help but no one would help her. Everyone would pass her by or was rude to her (she later revealed to me what was said her; I will not share it here, you would be highly offended). Simultaneously, I have two children in the church parking lot, which had just finally agreed we were leaving. She continued to tell me about how she needed certain things, and about her life (everything suitable for children's ears). I stood there and contemplated...
Do we stay or do we go? And I recognized it was time to practice what I "preached." I don't know how the woman chose me, out of all the people to talk to, I don't know why she decided I was approachable or to ask me. What I do know was that God was and is present in her, and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. Needless to say, our plans changed, and I was presented with an opportunity to show and teach generosity and service.
I told her I would gladly give her change, but it sounded like she needed more than change at this moment. I explained that our church was having a "Simple Supper" and did, every friday, at least during lent, that she could come to for food. I volunteered to show her where the "Simple Supper" was, and invited her to eat with us (the boys, already debated eating there even though they had already had dinner, and were open to it).
She said "okay" with slight caution in her voice (probably worried about whether I was going to evangelize her).... I continued talking to her about other services she could receive in the area (because honestly, it sounded like she needed help). We took the elevator to the church basement / hall where the"Simple Supper" was being held. We discussed people she could contact, and I explained a little bit more about the church community, and how well known it was for helping others, and the services this church, alone provided: how she could not have found a better church to stand outside of asking others for help. At the same time, I had to admit or ask myself this one question: Were any of the people in this church people that she had approached who told her they could not help her?
I was quickly reminded of Pope Francis' words: Option for the Poor: and by the end of this whole encounter I walked away with: Church Of the Poor and For the Poor, engrained in my head.
While everyone else waited in their seats to say grace before eating, and chit-chatted among themselves (am I judging the others, no), and I began to go off for a copy of the Church bulletin (with the boys in tow) so she would have the times for masses (and know of what community services, or functions were occurring that week, that she may be able to join - -all of which she was open to); she began to eat the bread that was in the basket in the middle of the table. When I returned she apologized for eating the bread, but stated that she was starving. I said there was no reason for her to apologize, it was understandable, to go ahead and eat as much bread as she wanted: this is one reason why we have "Simple Supper."
She was slightly uncomfortable with herself and felt a little out of place, however, I continued to talk to her, and thanked her for coming and for approaching me in the parking lot. I thanked her for eating with us, and for giving us the opportunity to get to know her. I did state that I was only in town for this moment, and that she may not see me again at the church for a little while, because I only go to this church when I have time to visit, but that I hoped to return to "Simple Supper" in two weeks time. Since the bulletin had confirmation information all over the cover, I handwrote the times for the masses, and googled contact numbers on my phone for her to be able to connect with the community and any services that were needed. The disparities were insane to say the least. And while I DO NOT have a lot of money, I still did what I could to help her, and recognized my privileged position.
Finally, at some point, someone offered "Grace": Although she had been eating this whole time, really true "Grace" began when she approached me in the parking lot. Saying Grace over the food and blessing it was wonderful, I do not discount that... but, I give more credit to her ability, and humility to be able to approach someone for help when she needed it, especially after being rejected over and over and over again. I was sorry that other people treated her the way they did. I was happy she chose to stay for dinner. She had a beautiful spirit, which made her a beautiful woman. What she had suffered made her full of "Grace"...a grace that didn't need to be said, because her thankfulness to God was fully expressed in how eagerly she ate the bread that was in the basket on the table. And when it was time to leave, I sent her packed with "leftovers" although she was shy about taking them - although she knew she needed them - she needed to eat. I made sure I took left-overs as well so she
would not feel uncomfortable, and because this whole encounter further reminded me of my father.
In the end, she left a few minutes before I did. I looked around the room, to see who else was there, that was new, that was not a parishioner who attended this parish frequently, or who truly looked homeless or in true need. I did not see anyone else there like that - - although - -- I know you cannot tell these things based on the way someone looks... nor is it my place to judge who comes to "Simple Supper," nor do I know the state of all the parishioners in the parish. I recognize the importance of solidarity with the poor; which was what this event was about....but there are many layers to solidarity with the poor. At the same time, I asked myself, are we doing enough for the community? The outside community? Are we open enough to the outside community? Have we put up walls and barriers, or do we have blinders on? Have we not thought far enough, seen deep enough? Have we cared too much about the opinions of others and who we serve here, are we really serving who needs to be served? While I know me writing this may lead to some hostility, these are questions I ask others to think about with an open mind and understanding.
And then I remembered a Christmas Mass, where I asked if we ever decline giving anyone the Eucharist to anyone no matter what, and the parish priest had stated "No, we do not." God does not show favoritism. We serve all people. In this moment, I recognized, we are to serve all people, but it seemed like one population was missing. The Homeless.
I write this blog entry today, to challenge all of you who serve. To challenge you to open your hearts and doors farther to serve more of those who are in need in new and different ways. I ask that you open up more to the community around you and interact with it, to see who really needs your help and services, if you have them to offer. A church Of the Poor and For the Poor, but where are all the Poor? In my last blog, I stated that the Poor include those who are rich in wealth, but poor in spirit - - The reality is the Poor includes everyone, those who are spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially (and whatever other category of) poor.
Let us open our hearts and minds further to explore new ways to right the wrongs of society, Especially if right outside of our Church doors, people are standing asking for help... and constantly being passed by, or spit on, or sweared at. Fairness.... ..........I am reminded of the boys...........
............................. Fairness.......................................... what is fair? What is just?
To conclude our evening, The three of us got in the car (the boys and I), and started the trek to my father's (who is homebound, and ill) to drop off food... and on our way, we saw the beautiful woman, walking on the sidewalk, in all black, with her black long flowing hair (very similar to the length of a black veil that is given with a habit), eating some bread that she took as left-overs, yet walking more uprightly than when she approached, and with a smile on her face.
I am thankful and happy to my home parish for providing "Simple Supper" and for their social justice, advocacy, and outreach. I am thankful for them for cultivating a giving spirit in me, and the ability to recognize someone in need, and to serve them. I am thankful for the community garden they are starting to help supplement their service to those in need. I am thankful I met this beautiful woman and had an opportunity to help and give in some way. I am thankful for the generosity that was shown and taught to me by this woman, and the generosity that I was able to show and to teach others. I only hope that others are given the opportunity to experience something similar or the same thing.
Prayer Provided at "Simple Supper"
Lord when I am hungry,
give me someone needing food.
When I am thirsty,
send me someone needing a drink
When I am cold, send me
someone to warm
When I am grieved, send me
someone to console
When my cross grows heavy
let me carry another's cross too
When I am poor, lend me
someone in need
When I have no time,
give me someone I can help a little while
When I am humiliated,
let me have someone to praise
When I am disheartened,
send me someone to cheer
When I need understanding
give me someone who needs mine.
When I need to be looked after
give me someone to care for
When I think only of myself
draw my thoughts to another.