I’ve talked before about my Grandmother, and that she worked in the school cafeteria. Actually, my whole family did - my grandfather was the custodian, my grandmother was over the cafeteria, and my mother worked for her. The school was about 15 miles outside of Deming, and about 15 miles from the Mexican border – so it was out in the middle of nowhere.
The school was a k-6. A few of the kids were farm kids and pretty much didn’t do without anything. The rest were poor. Often the only meal they had was the lunch provided by the school. The rules they gave my grandmother were simple: She must use all the government commodities they sent out by the end of the year, and she mustn’t go over the allowed amount of food. Other than that, she could change the menu however she needed. So, she did. I often think there was some creative bookkeeping done on her part, but it always balanced in the end.
There were about 200 students in the school, and she made sure there was always enough food for each child to have seconds if they wanted or needed it. Thirds – if it was a favorite like Pizza. None of the kids left hungry.
My grandmother never once bragged about what she did for them, never held it over their heads. When parents or other teachers would complement her about it, she would simply shrug and say something like, “We had extra and I didn’t want to throw it away.”
500 years ago, this year, St. Thomas of Villanova made his Religious profession – taking the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. He reluctantly took on the office of Bishop some few years later, but refused to live the rich life of the bishops of his time. Instead, he took the money and gave to the poor, he even opened a soup kitchen of sorts and a shelter for the homeless there at his residence. And before he died, he made sure to sell the rest of his belongings and gave the money to the poor.
He understood that all that he had was nothing if it wasn’t used for the sake of others. That his love of God was hollow, if he didn’t love those around him and help them however he could.
Yet, he didn’t make a show of it. He would never announce what he was doing or mention it so listening ears would hear and spread it around. He didn’t let pride take these good works and destroy them.
In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret.” In other words, do it because it needs done, not because you want praise or reward for doing it.
We are called to do the same. We receive freely of God’s Word and Sacrament. We receive without cost, but we receive with a condition. “Go and do what I have done.” Take what you have received and give it to those in need.
“I would like to give money to the poor, but I don’t have much extra and I have to pay the bills.” That is a good and valid point. So, what can you do?
1 – If you take your lunch to work, pack a little extra. An extra sandwich, small bag of chips, crackers. And on the way to or from if you see someone in need, give it to them.
2- If you are going out to the store, or shopping, or whatever reason, take some small snacks along with you – peanut butter sandwich, chips, crackers, juice boxes…something. And again, if you see someone in need or begging, you have something to give.
Sadly, we don’t have to go far to find someone in need.
3- Donate to a place that directly feeds the homeless. My favorite – Rosa’s Pizza in Philadelphia. Why, because it doesn’t cost a whole lot. $5 gives 5 people a free slice of pizza. But there many other good places out there – do some research and find one that touches your heart. Maybe one that helps children or families.
What is the cost of an extra sandwich or bag of chips, or snack crackers? Or the cost of a slice of pizza? For the person that receives it – the price is dear – it means their stomach won’t be rumbling for a while. Maybe they won’t have to try to sleep on an empty stomach.
We receive freely – it’s time we begin to give freely.