Continuing our reflection series “The Light of One”, Community of Sant’Egidio member Charlie Gardner writes about a graced insight toward gratitude.

On one morning commute, I detoured to a grocery store to pick up a few items, but somehow ending up grabbed a blueberry muffin from the bakery. Then I spotted a chocolate pastry. In a moment of indulgence, I grabbed the pastry too and immediately regretted it. I had already eaten breakfast and did not need two additional sweets. I continued on the way to my office when I heard:

“Hey man, do you have anything to eat?”

Stopped in my tracks, I looked up and saw an older African-American man with a big white beard.

“Actually, I do. Would you like a pastry?”

I then sat down next to him on the bench and gave him the pastry while I ate the muffin.

He began to share with me his understanding of his faith:

“When I think about my religion, I like to think of it as ‘I’m grateful’.”

photo by sxc.hu

These words struck me at once, for their simplicity and profundity: as Catholics, our faith is centered upon the Eucharist, which means “to give thanks”. But they also struck me coming from this man who was homeless and, by worldly accounts, should have so little to give thanks for.

But just as the poor shepherds were among the first to welcome God into our world, so did George welcome God each time that he gave thanks. I left that conversation feeling grateful that I bought two pastries and amazed that God used my sudden impulse as an opportunity for me to meet George.

“Those who have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry”  (Luke 3:11). If we are to be like John the Baptist and proclaim the Kingdom of God, we must actively create these spaces where we can recognize the humanity of others, where we can listen to their stories, and engage them.

And it starts when we sit down and share with people like George.

Help shine the light! Make a donation to Franciscan Mission Service this Advent.

Charlie Gardner is a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay movement based upon the spirituality living out the Gospel through prayer, service, dialogue, and friendship with the poor. He is originally from St. Louis, MO, but currently lives in Washington DC, working for an international NGO. He is a graduate from the University of Notre Dame, with a B.A. in Liberal Studies, and a M.A. in Theology.