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Hunger and thirst often exceeds the need for food and water

I got my first real job in 1988, working in the School of Education at the University of Michigan. I had just purchased my first car and was able to park in one of the university’s parking structures located a short walk from the building in which I worked. My daily walk from the parking structure passed through a relatively sheltered area that was a favorite stopping place for several of Ann Arbor’s homeless. In particular, I remember one man who could frequently be found sitting on one of the benches along the way. He always had a shopping cart that was filled with his life’s possessions. His hair was often disheveled and the look in his eyes told me that he had a great deal on his mind.

One spring afternoon, I was absent-mindedly enjoying an unexpectedly warm and sunny day while walking back to my car. Knowing the route by heart, I was startled when the homeless man appeared directly in my path, not more than a few feet in front of me. Shaken back to awareness, I stopped in my tracks. The man asked if I had a few bucks so he could buy some lunch. I had never spoken to him before, nor had he ever asked me for anything. A little shaken by his sudden appearance, all I could stammer was, “Sorry, can’t help,” as I ducked out of his way and hastened to my car.

I have been haunted by that incident ever since. I can still see the man’s face in my mind’s eye. I also hear Mother Teresa’s words, “The poor are often Jesus in His most distressing disguise.” I’m ashamed that I didn’t take the time to get the man some food. I’m also ashamed that I didn’t even take the time to learn his name – and so he will always be “that man.” “That man” could easily have been Jesus, hungry and thirsty.

Although I am not proud that I chose to do nothing for the man, that incident has forever changed my sensitivity to the hungry and thirsty I encounter each day in my priestly ministry. I have also learned that hunger and thirst can take many forms, beyond the need for food and water. There is also spiritual hunger and thirst that come to our doors every day. Meeting any kind of hunger or thirst takes compassion, sensitivity and a willingness to be stirred from complacency.

Cal and Irma Torres have worked for many decades to share faith in Christ and Christ’s love with many of the migrant workers who call our diocese home during the summer months. The Servants of God’s Love and the volunteers at Emmanuel House help to provide comfort, warmth, and love for residents of limited means who are reaching the end of their lives. Kristen Hemker followed a curious path that has led her to work for Right to Life, protecting the unborn. We also have a special section that looks at the hunger for both justice and peace in light of the war with Iraq. Hunger and thirst, in whatever its form, can be found in any stage of life.

While I can’t go back and change my actions 15 years ago, I can and do still learn from that day. And so our journey in FAITH continues.