This past Thursday, the good deacon and I visited St. Anastasia’s Food Pantry. I think about both of the food pantries which our parish supports every time I come across the yellow Sharing Envelope in our box of envelopes. I pray often for the numerous needy people who get by only because of the food the pantries offer. They come to mind when I see a beggar on the street or a dilapidated building that serves as someone’s home. They come to mind in the face of media coverage regarding poverty that is far closer to home than we sometimes realize. Still, in spite of this ongoing awareness, my eyes -and my heart- filled up as Mike and I made our way down the stairs into St. Anastasia’s Food Pantry that day.
A man on his way in to pick up groceries held open the door for Mike and me. He responded to our thanks with a cheery, “Have a good day!” As we descended the steps, a smiling woman told her companion, “I got a roast beef! We’re going to have a good dinner tonight.” Whatever troubles brought her to the food pantry faded in the generosity that turned her day around. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, a fellow parishioner from St. Paul’s welcomed us. “You’ve come to visit!” she observed with a grand smile. As Mike and I made our way back to see Kay Jansen, the Volunteer Food Pantry Director, we encountered numerous “shoppers” as they visited various tables to select the groceries they needed for the coming week. We also encountered six more volunteers who are members of our parish family.
I admit that I had a tough time keeping my tears in place during this visit. The people who’d come to the food pantry bore amazingly grateful smiles in spite of the tough times they’d face when they left. The people who served them met each one with the graciousness that once characterized a purchase at Marshall Field’s. When Mike and I spoke with Kay, she turned her eyes heavenward and acknowledged that most of the food pantry’s volunteers come from St. Paul the Apostle Parish. Kay added, “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without St. Paul’s support.”
Mike and I didn’t leave the food pantry empty handed. Though we took none of the food so carefully prepared and displayed for the clients, we left filled-up just the same. Our spirits soared in this grand gathering of God’s children where some assumed the role of servant while others humbly accepted the nurturing offered to them. In the end, each one enjoyed the good company and comfort of God’s family. In spite of the trials and tribulations of the rest of the world, St. Anastasia’s church hall became a microcosm of God’s Kingdom last Thursday morning as it does every time the food pantry opens its doors.
It seems to me that Jesus spent his time among us revealing a precise rendering of God’s Kingdom. Jesus welcomed everyone into his company and he offered each one a place at God’s table. Jesus provided for the needs of those around him, both spiritual and temporal. A wonderful example of Jesus’ keen insight into God’s Kingdom and our need to be counted among God’s children comes in today’s gospel (John 9:1-41). John tells us that Jesus encountered a blind man as he walked along with his followers. When the disciples realized the man’s infirmity, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus quickly responded, “Neither he nor his parents sinned. It is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me…” Then, Jesus turned to the man, covered his eyes with a bit of mud, and sent him off to wash. This poor fellow had been ostracized from his community long enough because of the imagined sin associated with his blindness. Jesus didn’t allow him to be the outcast another moment.
It seems to me that the good volunteers who serve at St. Anastasia’s Food Pantry have accepted Jesus’ call to do the work of the One who sent us. What is more remarkable is that the people served leave as content with God’s love as the man who was once blind in spite of the judgment that others might impose upon them. You know, none of us can change the world alone. Yet each of us can make a world a difference to those we’ve been given to love simply by taking notice along the way, just as Jesus did.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved