Many years ago, while working down in the loop I heard the leper’s bell.
This evening as I was reading a homily by our Holy Father for the closing Mass of the Italian National Eucharistic Conference held this past September; one line struck me: ‘A Eucharistic spirituality, then is the true antidote to the individualism and selfishness that often mark daily life. It leads to the rediscovery of giving freely…’
There was an event, about 16 years ago when I lived this quote. I was working in the Loop; which, as those who work there will attest, meant I passed many ‘homeless’ people begging in the street on the way to the train. If you look closely at them you will find that some are truly homeless and are in need while others are doubtful, so you have to discern who to help and who not to. It makes you cynical to a degree.
One evening, while hurrying to catch the train, wallowing in my memories of the day, I passed a ‘homeless’ woman who was asking the passing people if they could by some food so her young son could eat. Without even looking at her I lied by replying ‘Sorry I don’t have any money’ – in fact I had five dollars. It was at that moment, while crossing the street I felt my feet get heavier and heavier. The story of St. Francis and the leper sprung into my mind where St Francis hearing the leper bell (lepers were required to wear them as warning) walked past the leper giving a wide berth. It was then that he felt God pulling on him and he turned around, walked up to the leper, and in spite of the horrible stench he hugged him then departed. After a few steps, the bell stopped ringing and when he turned back around the leper had vanished!
Or so the story goes.
I heard those bells!
So, I turned my leaden feet around and went back to the young woman (finding that my feet had lost their heaviness) and gave her my five dollars. She thanked me and then left with her son. I waited a few moments; then to my surprise, I followed her at a distance watching her go into a convenience store where I saw her buy something to eat and gave it to her son. The bells stopped ringing at that point!
There was a peaceful, contented happiness in my soul as I continued to the train – I had met Jesus and helped Him in the woman and her son. I was living the Eucharist by helping Christ in those who He loves. For that brief moment I was more alive than at any time I could remember. By giving freely (time, money and concern) I experienced what true freedom was – Love.
Too often we are caught up in our own issues to notice that we have strayed away from our Eucharistic center – that part of us, deep within, that is alive with God’s love – indeed – that is the Holy Spirit himself. Instead of living love as family we are struggling with ourselves, by ourselves; leaving us with an emptiness that we can’t remove. Giving freely of ourselves to others is a great way to remove that emptiness and reawaken true peace and joy – sometimes it just takes the sound of a leper’s bell to remind us.