- Open your eyes and look on our distress (Dan. 9:18)
A filler sentence in last week’s bulletin of St. Vincent Ferrer’s Church in Vallejo, California reads: “Christianity is the story of beggars who tell other beggars where to find bread.”
But it appears there is no glory in being a beggar. To go begging is considered an evil that does not befall the children of the righteous and is also listed among the curses befitting opponents who are wicked, treacherous, dishonest, deceitful, slanderous, hateful and ungrateful (Ps. 37:25; 109:10).
True followers of Christ, however, do not settle for simply calling him, “Lord, Lord!”; they really embrace him who became a curse for human beings in order to ransom them from curse (Gal. 3:13). Authentic Christians glory in the cross of Jesus Christ and turn the symbol of death, defeat and perdition into a symbol of life, victory and salvation (Gal. 6:14; Jn. 3:14-15; Num. 21:6-19). Christianity, no doubt, proffers the vision of a world turned upside-down, so to speak, and is the story of the new exodus which—just like the old exodus from the house of slavery—was made up of the poor, the afflicted, the long-suffering, the disabled, the marginalized, the beggars (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney’s “An Upside-Down Sign: The Church of Paradox ; Lk. 7:21-23).
And an assembly of the poor, which asserts its preferential option for the poor and finds wisdom and power in the foolishness and powerlessness of the cross, the Christian community has to be, if it is not to betray its crucified Lord and belie the efficacy of the abiding presence of the one who offered one sacrifice that has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. This is to say, we should not deny that we are beggars nor should we try to leave our poverty behind. Vincent de Paul, if I may repeat once again what Jacques Delarue said of the saint, emerged into the light and was established in faith once for all when he finally made the decision to live the rest of his life in solidarity with the poor, to whom he belonged and whom he had tried to leave behind.
Whether I like it or not, and no matter how much and how often I deceive myself into thinking I need no one, what is certain is that I am at the mercy of many, not to say, everybody. I am, of course, at the mercy of God, in whom I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28). Of this I am poignantly assured by the certainty of death that sooner or later will catch up with me. And all this talk of a coming “time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time,” of “tribulation” after which “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken,” all this impels me to cling with all my strength on to what is really the only remaining hope for me, the hope that he will have pity on me and count me among the elect, this Son of Man who will surely come in the clouds with great power and glory, although on what day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
And even though the daily bread I earn may give me a bit of assurance that I am wholly a beggar, does not this bread I earn, however, only convince me even more of my extreme poverty? For it posits and points to that heavenly and vivifying bread, not perishable but which endures for eternal life, the true bread that only the Father can give. Craving this bread from heaven, I feel more acutely that indeed I am a beggar. But at least I know, by the grace of God, where to find this bread. I owe it to other beggars to tell them what I know.