Today’s Reading: Matthew 15: 29-39
A few years ago, when I worked at the Archdiocese of Chicago, I saw a little girl standing on a street corner, selling chocolate bars. She looked like she was maybe eight or nine, no older than ten, so she was definitely a sympathetic salesman. But even considering this and the fact that she was standing on one of the busiest corners of the city at high noon, she didn’t seem to be selling much. Even on the few rounds I made of the block I could tell she hadn’t moved any of her stock from the little tray she held pressed against her stomach, and her face looked flushed and sleepy.
Now I’m not trying to shame anyone, I know why no one was buying candy from her: Child salesmen in Chicago are notorious scams. While you pay the kid and take your candy from the kid, there is usually a seedy adult not far off who will pop out once you’re gone to swipe the money. Even on that day I saw a woman in a doorway across the street, shifting from one foot to the other and making a very poor attempt to act disinterested in the whole candy-selling situation. But there was something about the tired look on the little sweaty face that made me very willing to be a sucker that day. So I walked up to her and gave her that one crisp twenty that you only really have in your wallet the Monday after payday.
“How many can I get for this?” I asked.
She wrinkled her nose and looked down at the little chart she clearly had pasted to the inside of the tray.
“Eight!” she said brightly, while smiling with all her teeth. She continued as she handed all eight candy bars over: “So…that’s two for you, and you can give six to Terence!”
I was a little taken aback, first by her tone and then by her suggestion. Terence is the homeless man who likes to nap in the shade on the other side of the Cathedral. He’s an age-old fixture of the neighborhood and he really only says two things: “Food for the hungry?” and “Hello young lady, I’m Terence.” At that moment, I wasn’t even thinking of Terence. I wasn’t even thinking about the homeless men on the steps of the Archdiocesan building that I had to climb to go back to work. I was only thinking about the flushed little thing and her chocolate. The fact that this girl, in the midst of a high-pressure sale, in the miserable Midwestern sun, in the flurry of people going down Michigan Avenue, should remember Terence’s constant pleading and think so little of asking other people to do the same went straight to my heart. In the end I gave all eight bars to Terence.
I think of this girl sometimes when I walk around outside the Yard at night. How easy it is to forget about the hungry people, even the hungry people right in Harvard Square. When I was a freshman I felt guilty discomfort when I would walk past them without dropping something. But now, nine nights out of ten, I walk straight past them without even turning around. What would that little girl say? Hadn’t she, like Jesus, had compassion for the hungry people in her midst, even when she had no means to feed them? And hadn’t Jesus, when he had no means to feed them, employed supernatural power to assuage the most natural of human needs? So why can’t I bend down and give them some little thing when I have more than the means to help?
Lent is a time for sacrifice, and one of the oldest forms of Lenten sacrifice is almsgiving. I pray, this Lent and next Lent and the one after that, that I might feel the same impulse this girl did. That I might feel, with joy and not guilt, the impulse to sacrifice for others.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a History & Literature and Religion joint concentrator in Lowell House.