The poor and destiute need our help and prayers, not our rejection
by Julie VanSpall
Photo Caption: Canadian Timothy Schmalz created the original Homeless Jesus, shown here outside Regis College in Toronto. The figure, which appears in cities around the world, “promotes the importance of seeing Christ in others,” writes Julie VanSpall. (Pjposullivan)
During our recent snowstorms, one of my first prayer intentions each night was for the homeless. How dare I complain about feeling cold when others have no shelter from the wind and snow? How can I moan about shovelling my driveway or scraping my windshield, when others have no driveway, let alone a car to navigate snowy streets?
There’s a woman I know who is a strong role model for our call to engage in the corporal works of mercy, namely feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. She takes food donations, clothing, and sleeping bags several times a week to an area highly populated by the addicted and down-and-out. Then she engages in conversation with those society has largely cast aside, often risking her own safety to simply “be there.”
A family situation has called this woman back to her home of origin and, particularly in the cold weather, I have often thought of the people she serves. They must miss her companionship as much, if not more than the donations she brought them. They probably wonder what has happened to her. She must wonder what has happened to them.
I have made small donations to her cause, picking up groceries on occasion, and my children and I pray for the homeless daily. In the past, I have created care packages with my students, including socks, gloves, and small snacks. I have also donated coats to Nightshift Street Ministry. I give things, but I don’t give of myself the way this woman does. I do simple works on the outside, while she sees Christ in each person she meets. I have a lot to learn.
I recently read an article about a statue in Ireland outside Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral. Depicting a “faceless, cloaked figure lying” on a park bench, the statue is seven feet wide and has been blessed and dedicated by the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic prelates of Dublin, Archbishops Michael Jackson and Diarmuid Martin.
The sculpture is located in front of the cathedral, and it’s only when passersby notice the holes in the feet that they realize the sculpture depicts Jesus.
During the dedication ceremony, Archbishop Jackson stated that throughout the world, “human beings are subjected to indignity, homelessness, trafficking and death.” Homeless Jesus “is a reminder of their plight and terror, whatever their nationality or creed.”
He added, “Homeless people draw us into their world – and rightly; we dare not abandon them here or abroad.”
Archbishop Martin stated that for Christians, “the homeless are not just statistics ... the plight of the homes is our plight.” The Homeless Jesus, he said, “reminds us of the demands of belief in Jesus Christ.”
He added that Homeless Jesus is not a “normal statue,” but “a beautiful work which is not created to be looked at and admired; it is an image which should make us turn away from it,” and toward “the many park benches, the many doorways, the many sheltered corners where Jesus lies homeless every day and every night.”
The Homeless Jesus sculpture was created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, and the original bronze statue is at Regis College at the University of Toronto. Other casts of the Homeless Jesus sculpture have been placed in cities around the world, promoting the importance of seeing Christ in others.
Even if we are not like the woman I know who feels the call to walk amongst high populations of homeless people, we are all given opportunities to live the corporal works of mercy. Some of us can donate to, converse and make eye contact with those we meet on the streets. Others can visit people in hospitals and care homes. Others still can make meals for the sick or offer rides to shut-ins. We can all pray for the less fortunate and for those who serve them.
Saint Pope John Paul II stated, “Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called ‘to practise mercy’ towards others.” Let us memorize the image of Homeless Jesus and act upon the profound emotions it evokes.