September 27 is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, who served as a priest in the 1600s in France. Thus, I returned to some of his words that he speaks to his fellow priests about serving the poor, and they are very convicting words to me as your pastor.
…Are not the poor the afflicted members of our Lord? Are they not our brothers and sisters? And if priests abandon them, who do you think will help them? So then, if there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them, to supply their spiritual but not their temporal wants, I reply that we ought to help them and have them aided in every way, by ourselves and by others, if we wish to hear those consoling words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead: “Come, beloved of my Father; possess the Kingdom that has been prepared for you because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me.” To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and deeds, it is to do so most perfectly and it is and it is also what our Lord did, and it is what those who represent him on earth in office and in character, such as priests, should do.
But one quickly learns that when you start getting into service to the poor, it is not a very clean, pretty, nor glorious process. Because you are dealing with broken people in broken moments of their life, with their trauma and drama, various challenges, where people fail to meet your expectations…and some poor we may serve may seem ungrateful for our help. But Jesus says to do it anyway…
It’s easy for us to jump to conclusions about the poor. We may have worked hard to get where we are and can’t understand why these people can’t do the same. But we also have to realize that often times we have many support systems in our life that we often take for granted, forget about, or don’t always realize just how much they played a role in setting us up for success: a stable family or home life; someone who gave us an example of a good work ethic; someone who cared enough about us to hold us to higher standards and convince us that we could make something of ourselves; an opportunity for education; good health; etc. The more we realize this, it becomes a bit easier to be more compassionate and empathetic, to not jump to judgments or conclusions. And then it is easier to put our nose to the grindstone when it comes to the not-so-flashy, inglorious, messy work of loving the poor. Another great example of this is Dorothy Day, who talks about loving the poor and seeing Christ in them even when they are smelly, unkind, rude, and ungrateful.
And here are some other words of wisdom of St. Vincent de Paul, not specifically about service to the poor, but that I think are good words to live by in general in our Christian life.
God’s works are not regulated by our plans and wishes. We should be content with making the best of the few talents he has placed in our hands, and not distress ourselves about having more or greater ones. If we are faithful in that which is little, he will place us over that which is great. That, however, must come from him and be the result of our own efforts…the spirit of the world is restless and wishes to do everything. Let us leave it to itself. Let us have no desire to choose our own paths, but walk in those which God may be pleased to prescribe for us. Let us regard ourselves as unworthy that he should make use of us, or that others should think of us, and then all will be well with us. Let us offer ourselves to him to do and to suffer all things for his glory and the establishment of his Church. He asks for nothing else. If he desires results, they rest with him and not with us.