Traffic jam. India. Holy cow! Cars and shuttles honk and halt for a crossing cow, while motorcycles and mopeds fearlessly wiggle through the mass of bigger vehicles. The sweet smells of overripe mangoes and sandalwood mates with the pungent smells of body odor and sewage. Meanwhile brawny, brown bodies crowd under market canopies, attempting to shade themselves from the blistering July sun. As my senses overload en route from the airport to my Uncle’s home, I sit pondering in the back seat of Uncle’s Mercedes Benz, while he speaks Hindi to his driver and my soul cries tears for the visible lack of upward social mobility here.
I ponder fate. Then out of thousands of windows in the traffic jam, a young boy of five or six years approaches mine. He knocks on it. I look up; our eyes meet. The boy points to a dead fly- swarmed baby in his arms. A real human baby, breathlessly limp in his arms. My universe stops, and I hear nothing. Silence crushes me for moments that feel like an eternity. Then my senses awaken. An infiltration of noise overwhelms me: horns honk; music blares. I open my purse. And Uncle yells, “No!” Uncle screams at me not to give anything to the slum dog. The car moves forward. Nearly two decades later, I still cannot erase this vivid nightmarish image from my mind. The memory still calls me to take responsibility for my unearned privileges.
Fair-skinned brunette, five foot six, fifty year-old grandma . . . bundled up and homeless on the city boulevard. She gently grasped well-doodled sign with beautiful handwriting that read, “Homeless. Anything helps. God Bless.”
I’m ashamed to admit that I’m usually hopeful that the light is green for me in that type of situation. But it was red. As I hit my brakes, my mind was invaded by what Pope Francis said at the beginning of Lent about giving to the homeless without judgment about how “our” money will be spent. According to the Catholic News Service, Pope Francis stated that people who don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on alcohol and not food should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on. (Carol Glatz, “Don’t worry how it’s spent, always give homeless a handout, pope says,” Catholicnews.com). We encounter the image of likeness of God through the other.
It’s so easy to be self-absorbed and think of our own comfort, our self-perceived needs. But the Gospel really calls us to look at the “other,” the stranger, the person most unlike us and find God in them. We are called to love them without judgment. Jesus said, “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” If you’ve never had an unnecessary glass of wine, a dessert (Lord knows, you didn’t need it), taken up more space than you need, thrown away a plastic bag, then I guess you can go ahead and judge someone for how you assume they will spend your money. I know I have done all these things and much worse.
I frantically dug in my pocket, rolled down my window. Her warm eyes met mine and we smiled at each other. I handed her some money and she smiled at me and said, “My name is Cheryl. If you want, pray for me; I’ve been sober for almost two weeks.”
Stop with me today. Be thankful for the stop lights in your life, as I am thankful for the stop lights in mine. Jesus said that “Whatever you do unto the least of my people, that you do unto me.” And the truth is, the gift Cheryl gave me was so much greater than the gift I gave her. I gave her some spare change from my pocket, some leisure money. But she let me meet my God through my encounter with her. Pray for Cheryl. Thank you.
“Brothers and sisters,
You were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
For light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
Rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
The things done by them in secret;
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
For everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine worlds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick that they which come in may see light.
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it give the light unto all that are in the house.”
“Every family is always a light, no matter how faint it might be, amid the darkness of this world.”
Pope Francis (Homily at vigil celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, St. Peter’s Square, October 2, 2016)