A strange gift appeared at the door of the priory today--a man named Nathaniel, with no shirt on his back and beads of sweat rolling down his face from the afternoon heat, rang the bell at suppertime. I knew not whence he came but he assured me before I could even ask that all he sought were a few apples and, if possible, to wash his face in the restroom (he was not looking for money). A simple request so politely delivered...I could hardly turn him down on this Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.
It's true that St. Lawrence is popularly known for the method of his martyrdom--death by roasting on an iron grill. The joy-filled saint is reported as having told his executioners, "Turn me over now. I'm done on that side." However, St. Lawrence is also known for his great charity and love for the poor. When pressed by the Prefect of Rome (who also had Pope St. Sixtus II killed) to bring him the treasures of the Church, St. Lawrence rounded up the poor and the lame throughout the city and presented them to him saying, "Here are the treasures of the Church."
Nathaniel--the very name means "Gift of God"--was incredibly polite and unceasingly expressive of his gratitude towards us. Providentially, Fr. Vincent had overplanned how much he would cook for dinner so the friars invited Nathaniel to join them for dinner. We didn't just give him food; we also gave him fraternity. I couldn't help but think of Pope Francis' recent message for the Feast of St. Cajetan:
What's important is that we don't just look at [the poor] from afar or help from afar. No, no! We must reach out to them. This is being Christian! ... Sometimes, I ask people, "Do you give alms." They say, "Yes, father." "And when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to?" "Ah, I do not know, I don't really think about it". "Then you have not reached out to those people. You just tossed them some charity and went away. When you give alms, do you touch their hands or just toss them the coins?". "No, I toss them the coins". "Then you have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not reached out to them."
Having done my best to serve him like any other guest, I was moved when upon departing the foyer he asked if he could give me a hug. He left me with a mandate to "spread the love far and wide." The whole exchange of the evening was really quite remarkable. Nathaniel provided me/us the opportunity to actually fulfill Christ's mandate to help all those in need. Although we gave him some of our food, some extra clothes, and an hour of our time, I feel quite certain that this evening, Nathaniel was the real gift.