By Fr Jason Smith
In Rome there was a street that I loved to walk down. In one block it had three churches and a café called “Snack Bar”. I thought it was funny because back home in Minnesota where I grew up, we’d joke that there were three bars and one church on the street. Only in Rome!
One afternoon I turned the corner to walk down that street and there, slumped up against the wall, sat a man, shaking, hunched over, with a thick scraggly beard and a smell radiating from him that permeated everything—even the coffee shop.
He noticed us and started to cry out in a drunken voice. I swallowed hard and decided to let the priest I was with go first, since he was always bragging about playing rugby back in high school. I watched as Father walked up to the man, knelt down in front of him, looked into his eyes, asked him his name, and what intention he could pray for.
Over the years I’ve found myself reflecting on that moment. What strikes me is that Fr Kevin knelt down. You only kneel down in the presence of a king. And that is the point.
The truth is, Fr Kevin did kneel down in the presence of a king. In fact, all of us, when we give help to others in some mysterious way give it to Jesus Christ who is a King.
The thing is we often don’t recognize the Lord in those around us. The people who sat on the Lord’s left and on his right didn’t either. It’s not the natural thing. They were surprised to hear that the crown, robe, staff, and throne that Christ the King was wearing throughout their lives was actually the needs of others. And when they served these needs they were worshiping and giving the reverence to the King that he deserves.
In other words, Jesus Christ has chosen to wait until the end of time to reveal himself in all of his kingly splendor and glory. In the meantime he has chosen to be a master of disguise, hiding himself in, well, your mother or father in law who will be coming for Thanksgiving soon, or your baby, who cries in the middle of the night, or in your husband, your wife and your children; in the person sitting next to you on the train.
When we realize this, suddenly finding Christ in others becomes more concrete. And there’s probably no quicker or more effective way to transform culture and bring about the Kingdom of Christ than living the truth that Jesus is present in others to the hilt. Let’s take a few examples from history to illustrate this point.
Francis of Assisi was a high born, high spirited, and wealthy young man. But he was not happy. One day he was riding out and he met a leper, loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of the disease. Something led him to dismount his horse and fling his arms around him, and there in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ. He dedicated himself to the service of others and inspired so many followers of the Gospel that we really can’t imagine Catholicism today without the Franciscans.
Elizabeth was the daughter of the King of Hungary. A life of leisure and luxury could have easily been hers. At the age of 14 she married and bore three children. Under the guidance of her spiritual director she began to pray and was inspired to help the poor and the sick. She sold all of her fine robes and jewelry and would daily take bread to the hundreds of poorest of the land who awaited her at the gate of the palace. She reached deep into the family savings and used it to build a hospital. When her husband died in the crusades, her family looked upon her as squandering the royal purse and mistreated her, throwing her out of the palace. She joined the poor and sick in the hospital she had founded and died at the young age of 24. She is still fondly remembered today in Europe.
Maria is a girl I met a few years back. At 11 years old she went on a mission to Mexico with her family. The poor town they visited did not have a church but the people of the village had been saving to build one for several years. They would put the money in a box chained to the bed of an elderly lady called La Abuela, since she was always there and could watch over it. After several years of savings they had only managed roughly ten dollars. When Maria got back she found sponsors, ran five miles with her dad, and sent the money back to build the church, which stands today.
These are three great examples that remind us that when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” in the Our Father we are praying for the grace to make ourselves the neighbor of every individual without exception, and allowing the needs of others, be they small or great, to awaken in our conscience the words of Jesus: “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”