A Heart For The Poor

by Social Justice

The following is an excerpt from The Father: 30 Meditations to Draw You Into the Heart of God.

One of the rules of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is to live in an area noted for the poverty. If a neighborhood’s economic status improves too much—that is, becomes “gentrified,” to use a popular term—we will move to a poorer area. The reason is that we always want to be in a place where the poor can come to our door. So it is common in our friaries for the doorbell to ring throughout the day.

Early one Tuesday evening, as we were making our daily holy hour of Eucharistic Adoration, the doorbell rang. It was my job during Adoration to answer the door on the first ring. When I got there, I saw one of our neighbors who came regularly to the friary. Her name was Ashley. We had gotten to know her story, and we knew that she was alone in the area, living in government housing. It had been really heart-wrenching to watch Ashley decline over the previous few months. Part of the tragedy of her life was her addiction to drugs, and it was taking a toll on her body. By this point, her hands were constantly shaking.

Ashley was at the door asking for something to eat. We had a pot of soup on the stove that was being prepared for the friars’ dinner, so I put

some soup in a bowl and made her a grilled cheese sandwich that she could take to go. I brought the food out to her and then went to get her a cup of coffee.

When I brought her the coffee, I saw that she was struggling to eat the soup because of her shaking hands, which broke my heart. So I asked if I could help her in some way. She said, “Well, you could feed it to me.” So, I stepped out of the door and took the bowl and spoon from her. I took a spoonful of the soup, held it in front of her mouth so she could blow on it to cool down, and then gave it to her. Slowly but surely, I fed soup to this sixty-five-year-old woman like a father would feed one of his young children.

There was not much talking as she ate. What I noticed most was the movement of my heart. To be honest, not once, even for the slightest moment, did any of Ashley’s struggles with addiction come to my mind as I fed her, bite after bite. I just experienced how this sweet woman, in her need, delighted my heart by allowing me to help care for her in her poverty.

God’s Word

“Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool …

But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit,

and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:1–2).

What It Means for Us

The Gospels provide us with several accounts in which Jesus allows someone to come close, and those around him point out that he is allowing a sinful person to approach him. In Luke 5, we hear about how Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, who responds by inviting the Lord to a feast in his home at which other public sinners are present. The Pharisees indignantly ask, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus’ response is, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (see Luke 5:27–32). Again, one of the Pharisees invites Jesus to a meal, and a woman enters the room and kisses his feet. Although the Pharisee thinks that Jesus will reject her because of her sinfulness, Jesus tells him, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (see Luke 7:36–50).

It is not that Jesus is indifferent toward sin; rather, he always sees the sinner as his son or daughter. The Pharisee thought that Jesus would not allow the sinful woman to come near and anoint his feet because she was a sinner. But when Jesus received this gesture of love from this poor, struggling woman, he did not see her as a sinner and reject her. He saw only his daughter, and he forgave her because of her great love. Similarly, when Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman at the well, he knows she is a sinner. But he speaks to her because he loves her; she is his beloved daughter (see John 4:5–30).

As Jesus reveals the Father, our invitation today is to recognize that he knows our struggles and loves us in our poverty. These accounts in the Gospel are a reminder that our Father knows our difficulties and addictions, but he does not identify us by them. He is deeply moved by our poverty and seeks to make us rich in his grace and love.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, “This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). God calls us to come to him, and he will never reject a broken, contrite heart. If my own heart was moved by the privilege of caring for Ashley in her need, how much more is the infinite love and mercy of our heavenly Father waiting for us in our need.

In the Gospels, Jesus gives us a model of prayer, telling us not to be like the Pharisee who congratulates himself for obeying the law but rather to be like the sinner who cannot even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven, saying, “Be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

When we experience our own brokenness of spirit, may we turn to God. May our struggles not be a cause for us to keep Jesus away. May we bring our brokenness to him, because he truly wants to care for us in our humility and our dependence on him. He does not see us as sinners and addicts and reject us but as his beloved sons and daughters.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, the temptation of our brokenness and poverty is to hide from you and to try to heal it on our own. The temptation is to wait to come to you after we have got things together. May we experience again the truth that you want us to come to in all of our mess, in all of our struggles. May our experience of our brokenness

lead us to turn to you, knowing that your Son came not for the healthy but the sick, to save us poor sinners. We ask this in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

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