Lord, when did we see you?

When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill, in prison?

Kristie Lenzen, Suzanne Schloeman, and I are reading Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacColloch, a noted Oxford historian, not a Catholic. The book is 1159 pages, a doorstop, covering that much history at a dead gallop. However, MacColloch comes to a halt when he writes about “the sayings of Jesus” — the Beatitudes or passages such as today’s text. He seems startled by what he recognizes as a “code of life” for the followers of Jesus.

I love Oreo cookies; I twist each chocolate cookie in opposite directions, hoping to have frosting on both cookies. I love Fig Newtons. I look forward to the apple pie my son-in-law will bring on Thanksgiving. It’s the center, the part that gets my senses that matters.

Yes, we are Christians by our sacraments of initiation and in our Catholic Christian worship, but the life lived is also what identifies us as Christians.

Sr. Helen Prejean serves in prison ministry, fights for the repeal of the death penalty. The movie, Dead Man Walking, was one of her life experiences. She hears about the case, goes to see the inmate on death row, befriends him, prays with him, walks with him as far as allowed as he walks to his execution. She says: “I must study my actions closely to know what I believe.” That works in reverse, too. If you want to know what I believe, just look at my actions. Today’s text tells us act on what we see.

C.S. Lewis claims: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” When you see your neighbor with your senses and your heart, you encounter the holy.

A friend of mine taught me to see with the eyes of my heart. I was signing in as volunteer chaplain at Doorways, a residential care facility for the homeless living with AIDs. A man in a wheelchair races in my direction. I move aside to the other wall; the wheelchair crashes a against that wall, bounces off, and continues racing toward me, doing a skating stop exactly at my shoe. I respond “hello,” but he waives frantically for me to come with him. So I follow the speeding wheelchair down the hall to the activity room. He proceeds to do large ovals at break-neck speed, then reverses the ovals, then figure eights. Other residents join me, they are stomping and clapping. The wheelchair starts line dancing. Finally the wheelchair comes to a stop, and the driver takes a bow. The residents tell me that I have met Danny. Indeed, I had.

One cold day, a car from a shelter brought Danny to Doorways. He wore a thin T-shirt, pants with no belt, worn shoes with no socks, empty pockets. Danny cannot hear, has estimated 5% vision called shadow vision, voice of guttural sounds only, wheelchair bound. He understood that he was living among the unloved, the unlovable. Danny spent every day at Doorways acknowledging the value of his brothers and sisters there.

He discovered a basket kept full of candy on a table outside the activity director’s office. He would put it in his lap, crash in and out of every office, and rush up to anyone he could find in the hall, giving away the candy. Yes, it was readily available for all, but he had something he could give away. The staff tried to train Danny to sit in the same place every meal; they would bring his plate with carefully cut-up food and his own large spoon. He would have none of that. Danny sat at a different table every meal, taking the knife, fork, spoon from that place setting, and crash around the room giving them away. When his meal and spoon came, he would make his sounds, nod his head “yes” and pick up his spoon. The residents loved it. The administrators demanded that he keep two outfits and one pair of pajamas. Staff took care of his laundry. If Danny found a third tee-shirt, a third pair of pants, he’d give one away. Six socks? He’d give away two, not matching of course.

When someone was coming toward him, he could tell if there was a cane, crutches, a wheelchair, and he would rush up, join the person with his half spin, wheel along side, waving one fist forward in the air, encouraging the person. At kareoke sessions, he kept one hand on the speaker, and performed his version of conducting music with the other. He could spot someone sitting still, point at that person, and wave his other arm for that person to participate. At liturgy, Danny sat next to the “boom box” with his hand on it. He made his sounds when he could tell we were singing, and when we weren’t he put his hand out repeatedly for the Eucharist. When I did place the Holy Eucharist in Danny’s hand, he put his other hand on top, hugging the Holy Eucharist, then he bowed and put his hands to his cheek. One more hug in his hands, and he would consume the Holy Eucharist. Now I understood Danny.

Christ within him is why Danny valued his life and why he loved and served his brothers and sisters. Danny taught me to see Christ in my neighbor with the eyes of the heart.

What do these three people have in common? Sr. Helen Prejean, C. S. Lewis, Danny, They are urban mystics. Whoever coined that term, thank you. It is perfect for describing people who are in the thick of busy lives, seeing Christ in others, responding to them, realizing the presence of God in every human being. This is their code of life.

We all are created in the same design, for the same purpose. What a wonderful life we have, in the authentic use of the word: wonder full. How exciting. Let us give thanks.


Kay Schmitt

Feast of Christ the King, 2014

Photo by Sooz on flickr.com