he gave to the poor;
his justice remains forever
Psalm 112 (111):9
The most famous story of St. Lawrence, deacon of Rome, is his quip while being roasted on a gridiron: “Turn me over; I’m done already on this side.” He had not only courage, but a sense of humor.
But there is another story that perhaps we should pay more attention to.
Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome appointed to give alms to the poor. In early August 258 Pope Sixtus and six of the deacons were martyred.
Lawrence was spared so that he could gather up the riches of the church to hand over to the Roman prefect.
Lawrence gathered the poor of the city, gave them whatever money the church had, and brought them before the prefect.
“Here is the treasury of the Church,” he proclaimed.
The poor are the riches of the church.
We, as the people of God, ought to share what we have with them – so that there is no poor among us (Acts 4: 34).
We ought to treat them all with respect, associating with them (Romans 12:16).
In an address to his fellow Argentinians earlier this week, Pope Francis reminded us that it is not enough to give alms.
Speaking to pilgrims to a shrine of St. Cajetan, he recalled the theme of the pilgrimage: “With Jesus and St Cajetan, let us reach out to those most in need.”
This speaks of the people most in need, of those who need us to give them a hand, who need us to look them with love, to share their pain or their anxieties, their problems. What’s important is that we don’t just look at them from afar or help from afar. No, no! We must reach out to them. This is being Christian! This is what Jesus taught us: to reach out to the needy. Like Jesus who always reached out to the people. He went to meet them. Reaching out to those most in need.
Sometimes, I ask people, “Do you give alms.” They say, “Yes, father.” “And when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to?” “Ah, I do not know, I don’t really think about it”. “Then you have not reached out to those people. You just tossed them some charity and went away. When you give alms, do you touch their hands or just toss them the coins?” “No, I toss them the coins”. “Then you have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not reached out to them.” What Jesus teaches us, first of all, is to reach out to each other, and in reaching out, helping one another.
We must be able to reach out to each other. We must build, create, construct a culture of encounter.
And when we reach out to the poor we find that they are real people – with hopes and dreams like us, with pains and sorrows like ours, or worse.
They are people with capabilities, real people, who dream of a future for their children, who are frustrated by lack of opportunities or by discrimination.
What can we offer them?
Most of all we need to offer them our friendship. accompanying them in their joys and struggles.
That’s what Jesus did. Can we do less?