Dear brothers and sisters,
As we approach this time where one of the main distractions is buying and giving gifts, let us take some time to read a letter recently sent to me by Eric, a former brother of the community. Eric is now a postulant of the CFR’s (Franciscan Friars of the Renewal) in NYC.
The joy of serving the poorest of the poor surpasses any material gift. Let us be reminded that the poorest of them all is He who makes us rich beyond measure, Jesus!
The plummeting temperatures and appearance of everything Christmas here in the Big Apple reminded me that it’s about time to send out another update!
Things are good! I’m continuing to adjust to life in the Friary and life in New York, but it has been a blessing. I’ve met many incredible people and have had some awesome experiences, of which I will recount a few random incidences (which is my usual style, for those who are not yet accustomed to my haphazard reflections!)
We are poor! But we still like to have fun, right? So one day we decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They usually request a donation of $25 to enter. We each had $0. As we tried to enter, the woman at the desk was shocked. “You mean you don’t have any money? Not even, like 10 cents?” “Nope!” we cheerfully responded. We had to wait a few minutes to talk to the head of Customer Service. When she came out, she took one look at us and began a tirade of thanks: “Thank you so much for being here, your presence is such a witness and I am so touched by your dedication to living what you believe and serving the poor, etc.” We were so shocked! We hadn’t even explained who we are, but by the fact that we were wearing crosses and had no money she deduced all of that! She herself was not a Christian, but she said it was God’s biggest blessing of her day that she was able to meet us. We didn’t even do anything! It was a very humbling moment.
There is this woman named “Miss Kitty” that comes to our house most days. She is in her 60’s and is very joyful and friendly. You would never guess it, but she’s a crack addict and has been a prostitute for most of her life. And yet she maintained this beautiful innocence and childlike attitude toward life. She’s not a Christian either, but has told us she feels peace in our house and asked if she could pray the Psalms with us each Thursday. At our Thanksgiving celebration we served almost 200 people from our neighborhood. It was a beautiful day with tons of food, live music and joy. We were playing some funky jams from the 70’s, and Miss Kitty got up and started bustin’ a move in the middle of the dining room. She usually uses a walker, but suddenly that became unnecessary. And she yelled, “I didn’t know you white boys could play dis funky music!” Oh, what a joy J. At one point a guy grabbed the mic from us and just started freestyle singing about how thankful he is to God. This is a man who struggles daily to get by, belting out beautifully his thanks to God. It was truly a day of Thanks-giving!
One of the friars caring for the poor of New York.
Last month I took a bike ride through Central Park. The trees were on fire with color, the air was crisp—just perfect! I explored the Park and took time to sit by a pond and watch the colors reflected in the water. As I left, I passed by 3 homeless people, 2 men and a woman, sitting against a church and wrapped up in blankets. I really wanted to talk to them, but I was so afraid! “They probably don’t want to be bothered, “ I rationalized. But I felt an urge to go and speak to them. So I did. We had a beautiful encounter. They were from Mexico and had ended up on the streets of New York. They were worried about where they would stay for winter. We had a great conversation and prayed together. As I left I was reminded—after a day of so much beauty in the Park, it is God’s image, living within each person, especially the poor, that is the most beautiful thing of all. If only we could see that always.
In the encounters I’ve had with the poor in Honduras, and now in New York, I’ve realized two things:
– The poor are often broken, needy, lost, addicted, begging. But who of us is not broken, needy, lost, addicted, and begging for love, for someone to notice us? It is so important to serve them, because they remind us that in God’s eyes, we all come poor.
– Why does God live especially in the poor? Because God is the poorest of the poor. He is the most rejected, the most despised, the most forgotten. He is the greatest victim of injustice. Imagine how many times each day each of us rejects, forgets, despises God. And so, “we must recognize the forgotten, despised and rejected as our only hope of finding God in this world” – Fr Benedict Groeschel
One last thought: I was meditating on Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordon. He is baptized by John, and God says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Why was God “well pleased” with Jesus? At this point, Jesus is 30 years old and has really done nothing of note. He’s been a carpenter, helped his parents, went to the synagogue…nothing extraordinary. So why was God well pleased? Because God loved Him! Not for anything He had done, but for who He was. Our culture so often promotes an anti-Gospel: “people will love you if you’re successful; you’re not worth much if you’re not the best, the prettiest, the smartest…”. God doesn’t live by that rule. God doesn’t love us because we are good. He loves us because He is good. So let’s stop buying in to the lies that we need to be great, that we need to prove our worth. God loves us. Period.
They own nothing but the clothes on their back and yet their joy overflows!!
Merry Christmas everyone! Let’s give thanks to the Great One who made Himself the poor, forgotten, rejected baby so that we may be made rich!
Peace and all good!