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A spirit of poverty means remembering our dependence on God

For several years our parish community has collected nonperishable food each Sunday. The food was brought forward during the presentation of the gifts and placed in large baskets near the altar. The food would later be transported to another parish some distance away to be distributed. That changed this past summer.

As the economy’s sluggish recovery has continued, we have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of families needing food aid. Even in a relatively affluent community such as our own, we regularly assist five to 10 families who need help each week. As this need has made itself apparent, we decided to form our own food pantry, using the food we gather each week to help folks in our own community. Our parish’s response has been overwhelming, and we now gather two or three overflowing shopping carts of food, toiletries, diapers and other basic necessities each week. That’s good, because the need has not diminished. With God’s providence, what we gather each week on Sunday is distributed by the following Saturday, with little to spare.

Each of our parish staff take turns assisting families with their “shopping” when they come to our food pantry. It happened the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that I was assisting a young mother and her two children. While mom was being practical, making sure the basics were covered, the two children were delighting in the simple treats that were available for them. Their eyes finally settled on some packages of cheese and crackers, which for them were as precious and delightful as little pots of gold. As their faces lit up, their mother was overwhelmed by the variety of items from which she could choose.

Our food pantry is in a high-traffic area, so parishioners are passing by all the time. It so happened that a parishioner was walking by that morning. Together we helped carry everything out to the young family’s vehicle. As they pulled away, I had tears in my eyes. As we prepared to give thanks to God that Thursday for the many blessings in our land, I couldn’t help but reflect that we can do better for people who need a hand up.

The parishioner who assisted me, herself a young mother of two, later shared what an eye-opening experience her brief encounter with our parish food pantry was for her. She also told me that she had tearfully shared that with her husband and their two young daughters later that same day. In a struggling young mother and her two sons, she said, she was able to see more similarities than differences.

This year, we turn our thoughts to the beatitudes. In the first beatitude, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor is in each one of us, for none of us can offer the ultimate satisfaction, comfort, or nourishment that we find only in God. Yet each of us is “blessed” – a word that can also mean ‘filled with dignity’, ‘worthy of respect’, ‘worthy of love’ – and therein lies the dawning of God’s kingdom. No matter our personal circumstances, each of us is significant in God’s eyes.

The beatitudes are the theme that will guide our stories and reflections for 2003. In the months ahead, I suspect we will see more similarities than differences, as we travel with the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and the rest of our blessed companions.

And so our journey in FAITH continues.