July 10, 2017

The Blessed Poor

By Elizabeth Kelly *
Credit: Rui Duarte via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). filter added.
Credit: Rui Duarte via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). filter added.

Jeremiah is homeless. He is a slight man and slanted to the right. Some days he has a pronounced limp – arthritis in the knee. He’s lost most of his teeth. I first met Jeremiah some time ago on my way into work at my highway exit where he stands at the stoplight and holds a cardboard sign: “Homeless, hungry.” One day I rolled down my window, asked his name, and offered him a few dollars that he accepted with a two-tooth grin. He asked my name and we shook hands. He thanked me and blessed me and the light turned green. 

I keep a small wad of bills on me because of Jeremiah. I want to be prepared. 

As the weeks and months went on, we would greet each other and make our little exchange and I found myself saying ridiculous, meaningless things like “Take care of yourself.” One day I said, “I’ll say a prayer for you” and even though I meant it, even though I do pray for Jeremiah, I hated how condescending that sounded, how holy-roller and hypocritical as I drove away in my car that is paid for, on my way to a job with a salary and benefits, into a world a million miles from Jeremiah’s. I wanted to do better. 

One day, I asked, “How are you doing?” He shook his head a bit and gestured toward what looked like an old, dirty sleeping bag among his few possessions leaning up against a utility pole. “You wanna know?” he said sharply, “That’s how I am. That’s my reality.” He turned his back, the light turned green, and I pulled away opening up the painful gap between us. I was dissatisfied and disheartened, and utterly dumbfounded by the stupid ease of my escape. 

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I prayed for wisdom. Fr. John Wickham suggests that wisdom is the graced ability to hold the risen Christ in your heart moment by moment, to measure everything against the horizon of the truth of eternity. He says wisdom is found in recollecting oneself continually with the Word, allowing Jesus to reveal himself to you in his teaching, and in particular, with the reality of his resurrection.

How could Jeremiah and I ever share a world with a resurrected Jesus?

One day I found that my cache of bills had been spent. I started digging in the cup holder for a few quarters, any change. Jeremiah accepted the coins gratefully as I apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, that’s all I have today,” but then I added, “I’ll see you again.” I pointed at him and nodded my reassurance, my little pledge. He nodded back and smiled. “All right!” he said taking me at my word. 

I drove away hoping I would see Jeremiah again. I wondered if he felt the same way about seeing me. “I will see you again.” Such a little gesture and yet, he seemed to receive it with all the weight I had intended. Suddenly, we had a plan, a hope, the promise of a future together. 

It is, of course, woefully inadequate. Not nearly enough. But it’s a start. I wonder if just maybe that little hope is where Jeremiah and I can begin to share a home, a sliver of the promise of the kingdom of heaven. Maybe that’s where we can meet in blessedness and catch a glimpse of Jesus walking by. 

Lord, show me how to create “home,” even for a moment, for those who have none.

Elizabeth Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of six books, including including Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament. She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith. She teaches in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (MN). Her website is: www.emkbooks.com.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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