On that Sunday, like other Sundays when Lisa pulled the weekend shift, I was caught up in a time-sucking vortex. Once again, I was solely responsible for getting a toddler, and two small children ready for Mass. On those days, no matter how early I woke up, it seemed that I could never outpace the sand as it raced through the hour-glass. In the seminary, I was taught to arrive for Mass several minutes early to peacefully prepare my heart to receive the Word, and the Eucharist. More than a decade later, my young children’s immediate Mass preparation consisted of a father driving them into the car with all of the peace and gentleness of a calf-roping cowboy at a rodeo.
Somehow, without benefit of my wife’s leadership, I always managed to miscalculate the time it would take to feed, clothe, and push everyone out the door on time for this regularly scheduled Sunday event. In the middle of this chaos, on one particular Sunday, I remembered that I had skipped my own breakfast. In the past, failure to sufficiently fuel my body, had led to cranky bouts of hypoglycemia at the end of Mass when I needed energy and patience to corral and pack kids for the return trip home.
Attempting to avert a post-Eucharistic dust-up, I shouted last minute instructions at the kids and began to scavenge through the refrigerator to locate portable lunch items to pitch into a spare feed-bag to be eaten on the way home from Mass: an apple, banana, carrot stick, a slice of bread, a bottle of water, and a yogurt that when shaken hard, becomes a milkshake. “Time to go!”
My made-for-suburbia minivan sped out of the familiar ecosystem of the County and made its way to the highway that would take my family and me to the old parish we have always attended in the heart of the city. As we exited off of the highway, onto the city streets, a stoplight caused me to notice a one-armed man begging at the intersection. Such an encounter would never be allowed to happen in my carefully patrolled suburban neighborhood. I looked ahead, trying not to notice. The beggar approached with a coffee tin wedged between the stump of what was left of his right arm, and his side. He stood a few feet from the driver’s window with a plaintive look on his face.
Street life has a way of weathering a face–pressing lines into it like well-worn leather luggage. “Is this guy thirty-five or sixty-five?” “Did he lose his arm in Vietnam or did diabetes and street life take it from him?” As I pondered these questions, that weathered face, that weathered life continued to wait just on the other side of the glass. From the depths of my soul, an old grade school tune began to play in my head, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” The irony of trying to ignore a beggar on the way to Sunday Mass was staring me in the face.
The light turned green. I peered into my yawning empty wallet. My futile scan for spare change in the car’s ashtray yielded nothing. Horns started to protest this sudden retrieval of a conscience. Just as I was ready to despair, my eyes caught the feedbag I had hastily thrown together. I reluctantly obeyed the impatient horns’ promptings and began to roll slowly forward. As I rolled past, I extended the feedbag out the window, handing it off like a baton in a relay race. The stranger’s eyes smiled as he said, “God bless you sir.” I recognized something familiar in those eyes. Caught in the gaze of that one-armed man, the frenzied Grinch, who moments before had scowled, pushed, and prodded children, melted away. My heart instantly grew at least two sizes from having been nourished by the soul-satisfying food of recognizing the face of Jesus. In an instant, I realized the unexpected gift I had been given. “God bless you too…sir.” I said to him. “Thank you.” “Your welcome.” Walter said to me.
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those
on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 13-14)
A Christmas prayer for you and your family, “May you always be given eyes to see the angels in your midst so that you will never miss an opportunity to receive the grace of Jesus that is constantly being born brand new into this world.”