Column: It’s the most important thing she’s ever done

Priests have a privileged view of life. 


by Father Dave Mercer

If we pay attention, we will find ourselves where people’s faith takes on added meaning and, thus, where grace unfolds in their lives.

Consider when parishioners take a turn at feeding the homeless. On a Saturday afternoon, folks deliver prepared dishes to the parish hall, and a select group then ferries sliced ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, and more to a local National Guard armory where a couple hundred homeless shelter for the cold night.

When I finish the evening Mass, I hustle to the armory to join the others and help as directed. Dinner is in full swing. No doubt, many who shelter there are enjoying their first home-cooked meal in a good while. No doubt, some of the parishioners are living the gospel of love in such a practical way for the first time.

The parishioners see the homeless close up. One eats alone, carrying on a nonstop conversation with a voice only she can hear. Another wears a gray, three-piece suit in need of ironing, toting a briefcase and wearing torn gym shoes. Some talk with friends from the streets. Some are shy at asking for seconds, while others ex- press gratitude for their dinner. As Pope Francis reminds us, the homeless are on the fringe of society.

They are a side of humanity we avoid looking at when turning left at traffic lights. They hold up cardboard with scribbled words: Please Help. As we make our turn, we wonder if we might ever stop and offer them “Help.”

We hear the Gospel proclaimed on Sundays, such
as the one in mid-July that speaks of loving God with one’s entire self and “your neighbor as yourself.” So, we accept the invitation to serve a home-cooked dinner to the fringe of society sheltering in an armory. I chat it up with Susan who is serving green beans. When the sliced ham runs low, I bring up another pan.

Then when everyone has been served, we start spooning out second helpings. Susan turns quiet while she takes in the humanity of the homeless. She glances at me, then back at the homeless, and then turns again, saying in a measured voice, “Father Dave, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done.”

Sometimes, serving green beans is more than simply serving green beans. It can be when we find ourselves living the gospel of love and not just listening to it proclaimed on Sundays. It can be when we find ourselves practicing what we preach. Serving green beans can be a time for the unfolding of God’s grace.

Church is at its best when giving people opportunities to put their faith into practice. Church is at its best when giving people opportunities to do something truly meaningful. Susan no longer wonders why she never offers people the “help” they need. She has done so and now hears the Gospel proclaimed on Sundays more clearly as an unfolding of God’s grace.

Of course, this lines up with recent comments by Pope Francis. He captures the attention of even the secular press when he speaks of the Gospel as calling us to focus not on ourselves, but on the poor, admitting that it breaks his heart when the death of a homeless person is not news. In May, he reminded us: “If we step outside of ourselves, we will find poverty.” He is intent on renewing church life by calling us to seek those on the fringes of society who need help the most.

Sometimes, serving green beans can be the important thing we ever do. We can find ourselves living the Gospel and our faith with added meaning. We can find ourselves where God’s grace unfolds.

 

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