Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, Br. Thomas Piolata, an O. F. M. Capuchin, shares how he sees the face of Christ in the people that he serves.
Every Sunday morning, I have the great privilege of serving food to those experiencing homelessness with the Missionaries of Charity and some of my Capuchin colleagues. We drive to two locations, open up the back of our van, take out a table, and place a couple of trays of food on it with a large jug of coffee.
Men and women gather around, one of the friars will preach a small word, and then say a prayer over the food. A profoundly simple ministry, yet the ministry provides profound opportunities when it comes to compassion and really allows us to enter into the experiences and lives of others.
I recall, for instance, one time when a man asked to speak with me one-on-one because he was so frustrated with his bad habits. We talked, and then we prayed. The man did not even ask for food—only a cup of coffee after we prayed together. Laying my hands on his shoulders and praying with this man, this imago Dei (image of God), became an experience of the presence of the Spirit of the Lord. We gave each other, through our brief relational encounter, hope and joy.
On another day, a man came and, having run out of food, we could only offer him what we had left of the coffee. He enthusiastically accepted the coffee, tasted it, smiled, and looked up toward the heavens: “Thank you, Jesus! You doing good down here!”
A small gesture—giving a man a cup of coffee—turned into a conversion moment for me: How often do I thank God from the bottom of my heart for a cup of coffee? How often do I look toward Jesus to let him know how good he’s doing down here? Compassion furnishes conversion, turns the heart away from oneself, toward the other, and ultimately toward God.
My time serving those in poverty has certainly turned into a great joy. Of course, there are times when I find myself wishing I could stay at the friary, work on a paper, or grab breakfast with one of the friars and take a relaxing Sunday.
Yet, in the end, this ministry ultimately reminds me of Saint Francis of Assisi, who, after his own conversion, was able to write about the lepers: “And the Lord Himself led me among them [the lepers] and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”
Question for reflection: Was there a time when you experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit? How did you feel?
Br. Thomas Piolata is a simply professed Capuchin Franciscan friar of the St. Augustine’s Province. He currently resides at Capuchin College, in Washington, DC, where he is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America.
*Featured image: adaptation of photo by Flickr user Ian Sane – labeled for reuse