Mercy gives us the chance to get it right.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were going to one of her favorite eating places on Ariapita Avenue here in Trinidad, when I noticed there was an old man lurking around the area. I did not pay too much attention to him. However, on our way back to the car, there he was again. He called out to me, “Sir,” he said, “can you get me something to eat please?”
I pretended I did not hear him and I just walked on by. In my mind I thought that I was too tired to turn back, and I thought to myself that if I gave him money, he’d probably spend it on alcohol or drugs. So I justified my action with these thoughts. No matter how hard I tried to justify my ignoring this man, it could not silence a still, gentle voice in me that said, “Chris, you ignored me. I was hungry and you ignored my needs. I called out to you and you pretended you did not hear me.”
I drove home that night, silent most of the way, feeling a great sense of guilt. The words of Matthew 25:42, played over and over in my head – ‘for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.’ My wife did not know it, but I was in near tears a couple times on our way home. I was convinced that I had to make up for what I had done – or failed to do. That scene played several times in my mind over the next couple days.
The Saturday after, my wife and I went to the Mercy Village – an event that was organized by the Catholic Church here in Trinidad and Tobago. As we entered the inner area where Holy Mass was to be celebrated, I was so very happy to see a number of priests there hearing confession. So anxious was I to go, that I did not realize there was a line system. I saw that one of my favorite priest was available. A few seconds went by – about 10, and I did not see anyone going to him so I went – very grateful for the opportunity to confess what I had done and failed to do. What the priest said to me, I will remember for a long time. He said, “Christopher, whether the man has a drug or alcohol problem is not your business. Your business is to be Christ to him.” After giving me absolution and penance, he said to me, “Go in peace and do not pass Jesus again.”
I came out of confession joyful having experienced God’s mercy but yet a bit sad at the thought that I ignored Jesus and passed Him by.
Thursday evening after work, my wife and I went to Holy Mass after which, we again went to that same place on Ariapita Avenue. As God would have it, when we got there, the same old man was there leaned up on a wall. I was not going to make the same mistake again. I was actually happy to see him. I made no attempt to pass him by, but walked straight to him. He looked at me and said, “Good night sir.” I responded, “Good night brother. How you doing?” He responded in that same gentle voice, “Ok, but I’d like something to eat please.” I drew nearer and asked, “What can I get you?” I will never forget the look on his face when he responded, “Some chicken and chips please; with everything on it, and a little pepper please.” He continued, “Could I also get a soft drink please?” I told him that I was going to get it for him, and as I walked off, he exclaimed, “Wow!”
My wife and I went into the food place both smiling. My heart was glad! I cannot express what an honor it was taking out the food the old man had requested. Through it all, I was thanking God for His Mercy and for granting me the grace to at least try to fix that boo-boo I made a couple weeks ago.
All through the process of taking out the food, I was smiling from ear to ear, sometimes chuckling to myself. My wife was also having a good laugh at my expense. I kept saying loud enough for my wife to hear, “God, you real jokey yes!” But He was not done with His jokes yet. Whenever we went to this place to buy food, my wife would normally be the one who would foot the bill, especially if she suggested that we go. She was ahead of me in the line and got to the cashier first; but then she turned and looked at me, and I noticed she was not going to her bag. Then I realized that like Peter who denied Jesus three times, and Jesus asked him three times ‘do you love me?’ – so too was God giving me the opportunity to completely make amends for what I had done. I was amazed at how God was choosing to administer His mercy. You see, if my wife had paid for it, then it would not have been me ‘per say’ making amends for what I had done.
After paying the bill, I went ahead and dressed the food as my friend, the old man had asked. Then we went to give it to him. The old man’s face lit up like a child on Christmas morning as we walked towards him. He was filled with gratitude. As we gave the meal to him, we stood there and chatted with him for a while. He expressed how grateful he was for what we had done. I asked him, “What’s your name sir?” “They call me Uncle Vic” was his reply. “And what is your name?” he asked. “Christopher” I said. He smiled filled with excitement and said, “Oh! Christ at the beginning!”
Uncle Vic shared his story with us on how he ended up on the streets. The most amazing thing that both my wife and I found was that Uncle Vic was very gracious and for someone in his position, living on the streets of Port of Spain, he had an absolutely positive outlook to life. Uncle Vic is also a poet, sharing one of his poems with us. There were times when tears came to my eyes while speaking with Uncle Vic. I thought of what I would have missed if it were not for God’s Mercy. What a great honor and a privilege that was. We said good night several times, but something else would always come up. At the final ‘good night’, Uncle Vic walked us to our car, then he went around the corner, used the wall there as his table, and he had his meal.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you have done it to me. (Ref. Matthew 25: 31-46) We do not have to go very far to see the face of Jesus. He is all around us and very near to us. My wife and I saw Him very clearly in Uncle Vic. Jesus is in the homeless in need of shelter. He is in the hungry in need of something to eat. Jesus is in the thirsty in need of something to drink. He is in the lonely in need of some of our time. Jesus is in the outcast in need of love. He is in the sick and dying in need of comfort. Jesus is in that stranger who only wants to feel welcomed. He is in all of these people and more. The amazing thing is that we do not have to go far to see the face of Jesus as many of these people are right in our homes.
Lord Jesus, we are truly sorry for all the times we failed to see you or to recognize you because of our sins, because of selfishness. Please forgive us Lord. Please give us hearts of compassion and love. Teach us to be loving and compassionate as you are loving and compassionate. Remove the scales from our eyes and the hardness from our hearts, that prevent us from seeing you in others. We ask this through Christ Jesus our Lord.