by Jan Lewis
Earlier this month, we celebrated the feast day of St. Martin of Tours here at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas with a special Mass and reception for donors and patrons to the annual Snow Ball (held each January to raise financial support for our work).
In the early years of the event, the volunteer leadership adopted St. Martin of Tours as its patron saint because he is best remembered for a great act of charity.
Martin was a young Roman soldier serving in Samarobriva (modern Amiens, France), when he experienced the vision that became the most repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Samarobriva with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar.
That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. Shaken by the vision, Martin eventually left the military to become a “solider for Christ.” He was acclaimed the bishop of Tours in 371.
The remarkable thing about St. Martin was not the vision that he had, but rather, how his encounter with the beggar at the gate changed him. St. Martin saw in the beggar something that the others did not see; he saw Christ. He saw the face of God and was forever changed.
When you stop at an intersection next to a homeless person with a sign reading “Hungry, please help,” what do you see? When you stroll through the Plaza and a beggar shakes a cup of coins at you, what do you do? When you walk into Wal-Mart and encounter a Hispanic family that doesn’t speak English, what do you think? Do you see Christ; do you see the face of God?
Jesus told us that the poor would al- waysbewithus—but not for us to look down on, to disregard or to disdain. Thepoor and vulnerable are with us because they show us the humbleness of Christ. The poor and vulnerable are with us to show us the suffering of Christ. The poor and vulnerable are with us to give us the opportunity to encounter God face to face and to help us on the road to our own salvation.
The Catholic social teachings tell us that we have a right and a responsibil- ity to participate in society — seeking together the common good and well- being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Responsibility means that I have the ability to choose my response.
As we enter this Advent season, let us choose to respond with love and compassion rather than with irritation and judgment when we encounter the poor among us, for they are Christ in our midst.