Reach out and touch

Friday, September 2, 2011

I continue to be amazed by the compassion of others. My wife and I have had a trying summer, to say the least, including her four weeks of hospitalization.

During these difficult times, we have felt the arms of those giving hugs. We have been blessed with a shower of get-well cards and encouraging notes. We have been touched by so many of you, including some we have never met.

My friend Mark told me this week about something that happened when his family went to Mass on Sunday. A man who looked like he might have been an accident victim slipped into one of the small, two-person pews on the side of the nave. At first blush, it looked like a homeless person had wandered into the church to use the restroom. But he stayed for the entire liturgy.

Mark wondered if this was one of those tests you read about from time to time: Someone poses as one of the down-and-out members of our society to see if anyone was paying attention during the Gospel teachings of Jesus. Remember? Jesus said if you feed the hungry, you have fed him. If you do anything for the least of God's men and women, you do it for the Savior himself.

So here was a man who stood out from the crowd because he was, by all appearances, someone in need. Who would reach out? Indeed, some parishioners did.

Was the man a teaching moment? If so, who started it? The parish priest? Some crafty parishioner? God?

Mark's story reminded me of two others.

Several years ago, the president of Rotary International showed up in front of the convention center where Rotary's annual international meeting was being held. He was dressed like a bum. He smelled like a bum. He wanted to see if any Rotarians would offer help. Some did.

When it came time to introduce the president to the assembly, out walked the bum. The gasps were audible.

On another occasion, when we lived in Kansas City, we attended St. Mary's Episcopal Church downtown. During Mass, a bum with cutoff jeans, a clean white T-shirt, sneakers with no socks and hair still wet from a shower walked in. Everyone took notice. When it came time for communion, the man went to the altar rail and, after a brief discussion with the priest, took the bread and drank a sip of wine from the chalice. Several parishioners waiting to take communion turned and left.

I still don't know if that bum was a plant or not. But I got quite a lesson, and so did some others.

While my wife was hospitalized, one of the nurses took especially good personal care of her. My wife asked her: How can you do this day in and day out?

The nurse got the most serene look on her face. She said she looked to Mother Teresa as her model. Mother Teresa once said that every time she held the face of a leper in her hands, she felt as if she were touching the face of God.

If you have helped the least of us, you have given divine help.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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