It was the day before St. Patrick’s Day, and the crowd was a little calmer on the approach to that saint's cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City than it would be for the parade, as commuters trekked through snow banks left by a late-winter blizzard.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in one of his brief weekday 7 a.m. Mass homilies, pointed to the Gospel of the day: It was the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and the title, the Catholic archbishop of New York attested, says it all. Jesus knew the poor man’s name. Not so the rich man’s.
The morning before I listened to Dolan's homily, I was walking near St. Francis Assisi Church, just down the block from Penn Station, when I saw a man named Robert with a single tear falling from his eye. The tear glistened, as did his skin in the wind. He asked for money to get something to eat. I gave him a measly dollar as we exchanged a few words. He seemed hungry for something more than food. Imagine standing on a street corner asking for help and being ignored as hundreds of people walk by each minute. That’s got to wear you down. People tell me that beggars might use the money they get for drugs or alcohol. But, thinking of the Lazarus parable, I knew that I had to pay attention to the poor man in front of me.
As I made my way around the corner, I was going to grab a sandwich and decided to get two, one to offer to Robert. I was a pain in the neck at the store, trying to provide an array of options. It would have been better if I had first bothered to ask Robert what he wanted in the first place! In the end, Robert was gone when I returned to the spot where I met him -- I hoped someone did what I probably should have done and offered to join him inside somewhere warm for a meal.
St. John XXII described purity of heart as “the breath of the love of God,” which draws us to give service to our neighbor, without concern for the cost or inconvenience.
“We do not love others because of what they can do for us, or because we are attracted to them, or because we can benefit from their acquaintance,” Father Peter John Cameron writes in "Made for Love, Loved by God." “We love them gratuitously, that is, we love them because of who they are.”
“To be human is to be someone wanted by God,” he writes. “The pure of heart see this.”
Maybe it’s because it’s the Christian penitential season of Lent, but when the snow slammed much of the Northeast just days before the official start of spring, stopping many in our tracks for a day or more, it seemed to carry a message. In the quietest of moments, with no cars on the roads, reflection beckoned. The readings for Mass that day even included a text from Isaiah: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow ...”
How would it all be different if we took a step away from the noise and spent more time with those who might otherwise be forgotten and cast aside? What if we didn’t get sucked into frustrating political news and celebrity worship, and saw our own power more? What if we made a choice for hearts as pure as the freshly fallen snow?