I own many angel ornaments: an angel playing the flute (I played the flute in high school); an angel with her hands clasped together in prayer; another angel holding a chickadee. One of my angel ornaments holds shafts of wheat — shades of a Benedictine monastery on the prairie!
Recently I’ve encountered a lot of street people. (Perhaps some of them are actually angels.) In Nelson, a two-hour drive away, these people stand or sit on corners and in doorways. They usually look me in the eye, smile, and say “thank you” when I give to them. I see a growing number of street people in Nakusp, too.
Sometimes I give to these people, and sometimes I don’t. I feel my own children are struggling, and to help people — especially family members — is a sacrificial offering that is humble and full of love. But can we stretch ourselves to help others as well as our families? Might we reach out to people on the edge of society, even if it’s just with a smile or a brief conversation?
We need to be aware of and embrace God’s presence in such people. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says: “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Indeed, God is in all of us. We need to be humble, gentle, and patient. We might bear with one another in love. Jesus did this, and we can do it too if we follow Jesus’ path.
Jesus didn’t want to be king. He wasn’t into politics. He wanted (and still wants) to do his Father’s will, to reach out to people. The Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers 2009 says: “For Jesus, the heart of the eucharist is not any political kingship, but achieving the will of his Father, the one who sent him into the world. The Father’s will is the will those of us who participate in the eucharist today are nourished to follow also.” To attend mass is nourishing, but only if we then go out into the world and give of ourselves. We need to reach out to family members, and also to the poor and marginal people in society.
John’s gospel tells a compelling story: “When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’
“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
“When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled 12 baskets.”
Jesus was radical; he offered himself to all kinds of people, both rich and poor. Jesus inspires us to go out into villages, towns, or cities (even if it’s just Nakusp, Nelson, or Saskatchewan!) to reach out to people. The barley loaves in the gospel were, according to The Jerome Biblical Commentary, “the ordinary food of the poor.” The miracle of the loaves is, in essence, eucharist. When we reach out to help people who are poverty-stricken, this is also a eucharistic blessing.
In the Old Testament Elisha’s servant brings him 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in a sack. Elisha tells him, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” The servant says that there are a hundred people, and how can this food supply them all? But he gives it to them; they eat it and there are even leftovers! In this story and in John’s gospel, God is trying to tell us to love and care for others. Covenant House, L’Arche — these are a couple of charities we might look into.
I care for my family; I also care about people on the street. And one never knows — they might be angels in disguise! If they aren’t angels, however, they are complex human beings. And we’re connected to them all.
Strachan is married with three grown children and lives in Nakusp, B.C. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.