“Do you have another dollar?”
I honestly heard it a second too late.
And what’s “too late,” anyway?
Outside some urban churches, a man or woman — quite often multiple men and women — will reliably ask for money, particularly right before and after Mass.
You might even get asked while praying inside.
On this particular day, I had seen two men, one holding a cup, as I was leaving. I smiled, and he asked if I had a dollar. I did, and gave it to him, along with a little coin and message from St. Rose of Lima. I smiled at a second man, but he seemed to be otherwise occupied, and so I kept walking. A few strides from him, I realized he was addressing me. It seemed awkward to turn around. It would have been the loving thing to do, to stay and talk, to be present — to be Christian, for heaven’s sake.
We blithely pass by many people daily without actually encountering them. Cashiers, waiters, strangers on the street. How many of us have sick or imprisoned friends we don’t think we have time to visit? Maybe it’s a modern thing. Maybe it’s fallout from the fact that we can have thousands of “friends” today with whom we never even interact?
I went to church with Howard Jones’ ’80s pop tune “What is Love?” in my head. It’s a good question, one that many people have tried to answer.
We talk about real love because our senses are drawn to it. But actually living it is what we need.
As Pope Francis reminds us, love draws from the depths of our hearts and requires a vulnerability and sacrifice. Love hurts — that’s another golden oldie of the music charts. Yes, love involves joy and then some. But what does love look like in the everyday and in the long-term?
The way the pope puts it in his message for the season of Lent: “May this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral, and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we could give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: No self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
I write a lot about Pope Francis. I do because many seem moved by him, but I’m not convinced we’re hearing him. And based on the many questions and comments that come my way, people really do want to understand what he’s saying. What is the source of his joy and peace? How can I have that? Filled with the spirit of God, which requires daily prayer self-denial, he is a Jesuit father trying to stretch hearts, in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola and his spiritual exercises and missionary charisma. He does this so that we see the love of God for us, so that we see Him in others and so that we seek healing and forgiveness through hope.
Pope Francis talks so much about going to the “peripheries” to love. Sometimes the peripheries are right in front of us. It’s the stranger who is silently asking for more than a dollar. It’s the friend we haven’t made time for. It’s the love that we fear we can’t handle. It’s in our vulnerability and sacrifice. It’s more than what we’re comfortable with — if we’re comfortable, if it’s not stretching our hearts, if it’s not hurting, it may just be a pop song or a lecture prepared in advance.
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