Once at St. Lucy’s Shelter in Jersey City, I met a homeless man who taught me something about how the truth sets us free. He is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for about a year. He mentioned a few times how humbling it was to be in a shelter situation since he had a college education and had done very well in the film industry. He spoke very articulately about how drinking had eventually caused him to lose everything and to isolate himself, too proud to ask any of his friends or co-workers for help.
After spending some time at the Salvation Army and now at St. Lucy’s, he is getting back on his feet. What was most impressive, however, was the apparent joy and glimmer in his eye as he spoke about how he was much more free than ever before in his life. He didn’t care anymore about all of the material goods he used to have—as long as he had a sandwich and a cup of coffee, he was content; although he was looking forward to the privacy of his own room again. He is a Christian man who has come to realize that he can’t simply rely on his own strength. Although not a Catholic, he was eager to receive a rosary and learn how he could pray with it.
Our Saviour’s line about “the poor you will always have with you, but me you will not always have” (Jn 12:8) sometimes throws us off a bit, as if we don’t need to be concerned about the poor. Our Lord was in fact quoting the Old Testament (Dt. 15:11), and was speaking to Judas, who was more concerned about his bank account than helping the poor anyway. But this homeless man came to realize as a poor man how the Lord Jesus is truly our greatest treasure, the Truth Himself, who sets us free. Paradoxically, we realize that we always have Jesus with us in the poor, who will always be with us. Where there is humble poverty, we find the truth that sets us free.
+ Fr. Richard Roemer, CFR
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