The other night, as I was leaving the St. Joseph Cathedral having attended the Chrism Mass, I saw a homeless woman sitting on the steps to the Cathedral’s parking lot. Everyone kept walking past her as if she didn’t exist, as if they didn’t see her. Everyone. We had all just celebrated the Mass and yet no one said a single word to this woman. Including me. Because it’s awkward to acknowledge someone in that state; because I didn’t have any money on me; because I was following the crowd.
As I was walking away, I felt a pit in my stomach, a nagging feeling. I could hear Jesus whispering “That’s Me, you’re walking away from Me.” I took a few more steps, coming up with more excuses…I missed my opportunity, it’s too late now, it would be weird to go back.
But then I thought of my sister, and what she had shared with me during a visit to NYC. I had told her how uncomfortable homeless people made me, and how I felt bad not wanting to give them money because I didn’t think it would help. “There’s another option,” she told me, “stop and acknowledge them. Acknowledge that they are a person, acknowledge that they have dignity. It’s not just give money or walk away, there’s a third option. In my opinion, it’s the best option. You never know what that edification of dignity could do for them.”
Remembering these wise words of my sister, I stopped walking. I looked back at the woman sitting on the steps, with everyone continuing to walk by her. I thought of how Pharisaical it all was, how Jesus would have been sitting on the steps with her. More importantly, I thought of how she is a child of God, made in the image and likeness of our Father.
So, I turned around, walked back to her and held her hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money,” I said, “but I will pray for you, I hope you stay safe tonight.” Her face lit up, she smiled, squeezed my hand and said: “Oh honey, thank you, thank you. But there are people in other parts of the world whose suffering is much greater than mine. Pray for them.”
As I reflected on this moment this morning, I thought “This is the essence of Holy Week.” We are all called to be Simon of Cyrene, stepping out of the crowd and helping Jesus to bear His Cross. We are called to be Veronica, so moved by compassion, empathy and love for our Lord that we become unafraid of the crowd and wipe the face of Jesus. We are called to be Mary, remaining loyal to Jesus even when it is painful and uncomfortable to watch Him suffer. It’s not just a week. We are called to do this every day. May we all have the courage of our convictions and the willingness to see Jesus in every person we encounter. And next time you meet a homeless person, remember the third option, the best option: acknowledge their personhood.
Caitlin Sica is a 23-year-old resident of NH. She graduated from Plymouth State University with a B.A. in English with Secondary Education Certification. Currently, Caitlin is the coordinator of K-8 Faith Formation and high school youth minister for her parish. She loves her work and is passionate about the Catholic faith.