Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, June 24, 2018

For Bishop Peter Rosazza, who preaches the Gospel by serving the poor

Peter and I had been wrestling with a difficult passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. God had told his people that their fasting was unacceptable because it was not accompanied by righteous living, especially in their dealings with the underprivileged. "Is not this the fast that I choose," God had asked, "to share your bread with the hungry, and bring homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"

We struggled with this issue of social action. We didn’t have much contact with the oppressed people of the world, and, to be honest, our lives were pretty comfortable. We went to work, volunteered at church and helped the poor through our checkbook. It was all quite sanitary. Even if I wanted to help – and I wasn’t sure I did – how could I shelter the homeless or feed the hungry if I had constructed my life in such a way as to insulate myself from the very people I was supposed to help?

Still, I could not ignore God’s clear directive, so I simply asked him to show me where to start. I certainly didn’t know.

A few weeks later Peter returned from a business luncheon with packages of unopened cold cuts that he’d been directed to bring home. In the ensuing days, we ate turkey sandwiches, ham quiche, chef salad and every variety of cold cut dishes ever devised, plus a few new ones.

By the end of the week, I never wanted to see another cold cut again, but the supply seemed to be multiplying inside the refrigerator. Ignoring it didn’t help. When Sunday morning rolled around, I glanced at the packages and breathed one of those silent prayers: "Lord, what am I going to do with all this food?"

That was all I said. Then I headed off to church.

Late that afternoon, I began to absent-mindedly chop turkey for yet another chef salad that I had no intention of eating. When I was done, I looked at it and groaned, "Why did I just do that?"

Then a woman came to mind. Her name was Anna and her husband was dying. They were only in their 30s but they looked twice that age after years of illness and hardship. They had a teenage son who sometimes accompanied them to church, but mostly I just saw Anna, always cheerful and quick to encourage those who needed a kind word or a helping hand. Anna’s husband had just been hospitalized, and since caring for him had made it impossible for Anna to hold down a job, I suspected that she was struggling to put food on the table. It occurred to me that they lived just a mile or two away. Without much thought, I stuffed the chef salad into a brown paper bag, strapped the kids into their car seats and headed into the late afternoon winter darkness.

When we pulled up to Anna’s house, the children clambered to accompany me to the door. Grabbing the bag and the pajama-clad children, I walked up the steps and rang the bell.

Anna opened the door and stared at us blankly. I quickly thrust the bag into her hands and blurted out, "Here. I’ve brought you tonight’s supper."

As soon as the words were spoken, I regretted them. How condescending they sounded, as if I were Superwoman rescuing a damsel in distress.

Anna just stood there. She stared at the children, glanced inside the paper bag, then stared at us again. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and slowly the story spilled out. After church that morning, Anna had gone to the hospital to spend the day at her husband’s side. She had not even stopped to eat. Just moments earlier, Anna had arrived home ravenously hungry, but when she’d walked into the kitchen, there was no food. Knowing her circumstances, I think she meant that literally. So she had quietly prayed, "Lord, what am I going to do for tonight’s supper?"

At that moment, the doorbell had rung. When Anna opened the door, a woman on the edge of darkness handed her a bag with the words, "Here. I’ve brought you tonight’s supper."

Anna and her son received dinner that night, but I gained the greater treasure. God had brought hungry people into my life and had even provided the food for their meal.

All I’d had to provide was the brown paper bag.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.