By Theresa Suarez-Vertefeuille (Rated G)
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (1)
The other day, when church got out, I saw a huddled, shaking figure hunched over on the side steps. “O Come All Ye Faithful” was still stuck in my head, a strange backdrop now. His rags were dyed brown with dirt. Who knows how long this man had worn the same exact clothes without showering. What normally would have been an overpowering stench was dampened by the cold as snowflakes swirled in front of the huddled mass. They circled in a wreath, drawing my attention to his head. The homeless man covered his face with two large hands, out of which stared jagged wounds. My eyes darted away.
“Excuse me sir, can I help you? Why are you crying?” I asked as I took another step toward him, hoping he wasn’t at risk for frostbite.
As soon as he lowered his hands, I knew Who He was.
The Son of God looked at me sadly.
“What are you doing here?” I gasped.
While waiting for Him to answer I reflexively looked at the church. It was an impressive Gothic style, built from sturdy granite in the 1800’s. Ornate arches adorned the 15-foot-high oak doors, announcing that this was the House of God. I craned my neck to capture the main spire, but still could not see all of it. The recent renovation had added gold leaf to the roof, glinting in the twilight.
With the same frankness that twelve-year-old Jesus had given His parents after they’d searched for Him for three days, only to find Him in the temple, when He’d said “Didn’t you know I’d be in My Father’s House?” — Jesus looked at me and said, “My children are out on the streets!” The warm air from His breath puffed against the silent chill and His words hung there for a minute like snowflakes suspended in the air.
Although who wouldn’t agree that we should help the poor, I confess that my eyes widened in surprise at Jesus’ tears and how distraught He was. I looked at His hands and let my eyes stay there this time. Unexpectedly, my mother came to mind. One time I had left my little brother out of a game we older kids were playing, and her disappointed, sad eyes resurfaced afresh. Immediately, images of the last few homeless people I’d seen, normally fading in the background of an ordinary day, now came to my mind as strongly as brothers and sisters — people I would know, with a face…
…The overweight man in his fifties’ (who was probably in his forties), always carrying a plastic grocery bag and wobbling while he slurred the words he addressed to himself… the immigrant lady with a faraway look who always wore a hat, even in the summer, who I could tell was an immigrant because of the way she dressed, but I was never sure where she was from… did she know where her family was? Had she escaped a war in her first country? …the kids who always walked together in a pack, without adults, their eyes looking over their shoulders as vigilantly as adults… Jesus must have put the images of these people in my mind, because I thought of them in such detail that it was as if I knew them… even their names, eye colors, and favorite meals.
Jesus looked at me imploringly as if He wanted me to comfort Him, and continued, “So many people invited, but not all of my children were invited to My feast. Where are the poor, the needy, the blind, the lame, the crippled?” His controversial words upon reading the scroll in His hometown of Nazareth, echoed silently:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (2)
I thought back to just three minutes ago. The Youth Choir had put on quite the Christmas Eve show. After having rehearsed since October, they had “sounded like angels” according to Martha, who had been coming to St. Martin since she was a girl and had “never heard a youth choir so good.” Each section had had its own bright color of choir robes they’d donned. The poinsettias dotted every space on the altar, creating a sea of red and white. It was rumored that Fr. James had brought out the emerald-laden chalice that was original to the church. Cheery faces lined every pew and even the standing room in the back, smiling as if to reflect the hundreds of string-lights. At their grandmothers’ prompting, even non-church-goers had attended today. The pastoral council, doubling as ushers and greeters, had been working hard to come up with ways to entice that group to church, hoping to make them regulars. I wondered if a certain homeless man had knocked, only to have been turned away and been asked to “participate” from the steps outside. It would have only been “because of the smell,” he could surely understand — without meaning to offend him, of course… “What could be done?” I imagined them saying to each other hastily — “It would turn people away,” and then they would have wordlessly finished each other’s thoughts, a consensus that we must bring people “back to the faith” at all costs. This would have been a charitable solution — after all, it was Christmas…
Christmas, the night when a pregnant teenager and a good man helping her in blind faith were given one look and told, ever-so-charitably, that they could use the stable… “for free, of course.” The night when a rag-tag band of shepherds raced to this same stable, smelling like sheep. The night when Jesus’ mother held Him close to her heart for the first time, never wanting to let Him go.
As all of these details flashed in my head in a few seconds. Happy Birthday Jesus, I thought, bowing my head as I realized He wasn’t getting the only thing He had wished for. Jesus started gently rocking himself, not bothering to wipe the tears that would leak again. “My children,” He whispered, staring into space.
I thought of all of those people in the church, packing it to the gills, dressed in their Sunday best. I wondered how long it would be till they poured out of the doors where Jesus was.
Still staring into space, the Christ finally spoke one more thing.
“Not one of them was poor.”
1. James 2:1-5, New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Catholic Edition
2. Luke 2:41-51, New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Catholic Edition
Author’s Note: This is a dream I had. Thank you for letting me share it with you. I pray that when Christ is most disguised, I will recognize Him.