True warmth is more than shelter and food
Fr. Robert Mraz, Holy Family Catholic Church, Silver Lake
As I write this column, it is a bitterly cold, below zero day. It makes me appreciate warmth.
The car is sluggish in the cold, but the people are moving fast. No visiting outside, just get to where you are going as fast as you can, to get inside to the warmth. Warm clothes, standing by a warm radiator, having heat in the house and finally, heat in the car are really welcome.
How we enjoy warmth. But there is another kind of warmth, that of love and caring.
I remember a day like this back when I was in the seminary, about 35 years ago. As part of our training, we had to visit a soup kitchen on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis run by Brother DePaul. That was not his real name, but he wanted to take no credit for what he did so he called himself by this name.
Even though Brother DePaul was a layman and not a member of a religious order, he took the name of St. Vincent de Paul, who was famous for his work with the poor by seeing God’s reflection in them. As Jesus said, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.”
On this bitterly cold day, we stood in line with “the poor of God” on a bridge, with the wind ripping around us. I have no idea of the temperature, but it was definitely below zero, with windchill besides.
I had on my big winter coat, muffler, hat with the earflaps down, and gloves, and I was still shivering in the cold. I looked at the man next to me. He had only a thin, denim jacket with no buttons to close it.
He had no hat or gloves as he stood bravely on the bridge in the wind. My nose was running in the cold, but I was ashamed to use my handkerchief as I knew that he didn’t have one. He was not the only one there like that, there was a long line of people waiting to get in out of the cold and get a warm bite to eat.
As we were standing in line outside, Brother DePaul came by to visit those waiting, and as we were visiting with him, a fancy car drove past and honked its horn at him. He told us that the driver was a former alcoholic who, like us, was freezing on the bridge several years ago.
Brother DePaul took him in and gave him a warm place to sleep, and work in the soup kitchen. He got over his alcoholism and the personal problems which led to it, and now he is a man freed from his past, who can enjoy life again.
He found not just the warmth of shelter and food, but of love and acceptance from Brother DePaul.
The food was not gourmet, it was a simple hamburger and bowl of hot soup, which was donated free from grocery stores as the food was near its expiration dates and no one wanted to buy it anymore.
The only art decorating the dining hall was religious. Brother DePaul did not want credit for himself as he went from person-to-person visiting with the men, he wanted them to see that this is God’s love reaching out to them to warm their bodies, hearts, and souls.
I have no idea what happened to Brother DePaul and those like him after all these years. Maybe you also remember people like Mama Dee, who gave free food in her restaurant on St. Joseph’s day and helped college students back then, or now, Mary Jo Copeland and her “Caring and Sharing Hands Ministry” bringing God’s love to those in need.
I do know that I learned that day at the soup kitchen that warmth is more than heat. True warmth comes from faith lived, from love shared, from surplus given generously to those in need, and from seeing God’s reflection in others and being a reflection of God to others.
Those men on the bridge may have been physically cold, but they knew the warmth of God’s love shared by someone who cared, who wanted no credit for himself, but only wanted to share with them the warmth of the love of God, which he himself experienced first.
Maybe we can follow that lead, too, as we feel empathy from suffering in the cold of winter with those whose lives are cold and alone. As we prepare resolutions for bettering ourselves this Lent, which will be beginning soon, let us not forget to see Christ in others, and be Christ to others by sharing the love and warmth we have experienced ourselves.
“Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.”