Can God talk to you on your way from the church to the supermarket?
One sunny afternoon, on my way back home after hours of what seemed to be a never ending day at the University, I decided to stop at one of the many beautiful churches in Rome to pray. As a Jesuit, my choice was quite obvious: the Gesù church, in the centre of Rome, which also happens to be the mother church of all other Jesuit churches in the world.
I entered this magnificent church for the nth time and was quickly struck by its beauty, and by the sunlight coming in from the window on top of the main door. I quickly found my way to one of the side chapels, where I sat on a wooden chair in the corner where I spent some time alone in conversation with God.
As I was sitting down with my eyes closed, I heard someone sitting down next to me. After a while this person started speaking to me in Italian. As I opened my eyes, I saw a woman in her mid thirties, begging me for some money, or so I thought. Without even thinking a reply came out of my mouth: “mi scusi ma non ho soldi con me” that is “I’m sorry but I don’t have any money with me”. She was a beggar asking for something, but this time it was different. She wasn’t asking for money at all but she was in fact asking me for food. Nonetheless my answer was the same and this really surprised me. I shifted my attention from talking to God to talking to this woman. She told me that her name was Maria*, and that she was from the south of Italy, from the province of Avellino, near Naples. She had two kids: Antonio* and Laura*, ten and eight years old respectively . She had come to Rome looking for a job but did not manage, so she had found herself without any money. She begged me to buy some food for her and her kids.
After struggling with myself whether to believe her or not, I decided to trust her. I accompanied her to a supermarket where she got the small items she had asked me for. On our way out we greeted each other, and she thanked me a thousand times over and asked me to pray for her so that she could find work. She also promised to pray for me, and we each went on our own separate ways.
I went back to the church and sat on the same chair, and I started speaking to God again in prayer. Then it hit me. I had never stopped speaking to God. I have read the passage in the gospel which said: “what you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me” so many times and yet when I was faced with it in real life I was going to do the exact opposite. And who knows the many times I actually did turn the other way. I was struck by my lack of trust in this woman’s story and how difficult I found it to be merciful to her in such a situation. Is it possible that God comes so often to speak to me through the poor and yet I have gotten so used to it that I always have the same answer ready? That I don’t even lift a finger to help the poorest of the poor?
Photo by Joshua Ness
*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the individuals