Lessons Learned From a “Street Priest!”

by | Dec 22, 2023 | Formation, Reflections

Some words stay with you for a lifetime! Sometimes front and center. Other times, they sit just beneath the surface… like a quiet motor doing its job unnoticed.

Over fifty years ago, a much-revered “street priest” of the Diocese of Brooklyn said something that has stayed with me to this day.

“When I first went to one of the most ravaged areas of Brooklyn, I thought I was bringing God to the poor. I quickly learned God was already there…  I was on God’s turf!”

His words flooded back as I rediscovered a reflection by John Prager, CM

Perhaps one or other insights will stay with you as well… especially in this Advent season dedicated to looking for Jesus.

God waits for us among the poor!

We do not bring Christ to the world! Quite the contrary … it is God who leads us into the midst of the world.

The poor have value in themselves: I do not reach out to the poor simply because Christ is present there.

I reach out to the poor because they are my brothers and sisters who are suffering.

They are a priority in the Kingdom of God, and therefore, I care for the poor because they have a personal human dignity.

Christ calls us to serve the poor, not only “the good poor”:

John Prager continues… and wonders whether Christ had such limitations in mind.

Too often, we unconsciously speak about “the good poor”, those who go to Mass, live a good moral life, sharing from their own poverty.

I believe, however, that the call is to serve the poor, good and bad alike. We cannot ask people if they are worthy or not of our service and then care for them according to their response.

Christ invites us to enter the world of our sisters and brothers

To be a missionary is to leave one’s proper world and one’s secure place in the world in order to enter the world of the other… to accompany the poor with the gospel.

We are not necessarily referring to some geographical change but rather to be a missionary is to adapt oneself to the reality of the poor.

It is here that the Vincentian virtues take on an important role!

He asks… do we have the

  • humility to listen and to accompany without ordering;
  • simplicity to understand my true motives with regard to mission;
  • mortification to sacrifice something of myself for the good of those who are poor;
  • gentleness to resolve cultural clashes

Charity and evangelical zeal expressed in a desire to enter into a new world.

Prayer is not something we do for God but rather is something that God does for us. God questions us, strengthens us and points out the path of love and justice and freedom.

Charity is not simply works and projects. Rather, it is an encounter between brothers and sisters.

Gustavo Gutiérrez says: You say you love the poor; what are their names?

It is, unfortunately, possible to serve the poor without listening to them, and without giving them the respect of their identity.

Vincentians who understood God waits among the poor..

St. Vincent and Louise and all our Vincentian Family heroes and heroines knew they were on God’s turf. They show us the way.

They knew God waited for them among those who society throws away.

Is God getting tired of waiting for us to understand?

When have I recognized God already in the poor?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk