By Liam Mullan
I had a break between my morning classes at Hunter College one day during the spring semester last year, so I walked to a nearby Dunkin’ for a coffee and doughnut. Walking back to school, breakfast in hand, I stood on Lexington Avenue waiting for a green light when I turned to see a man with half his body in a garbage can, apparently rummaging to gather food. The light turned green, and I began to cross the street. I took three steps and suddenly stopped, struck by an uncomfortable reality. Was I about to just walk past this guy and not acknowledge him?
Could I claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, someone who had experienced the great love and providence of God and yet be capable of ignoring this man? What was this faith I held if it wasn’t accompanied by good works? I felt as though a voice in me said, “Go back.”
I returned to the man and started talking to him. I went on to spend 20 minutes speaking with and listening to him and offering to share whatever assistance I could. His name was Angél, and he was so incredulous that anybody would stop to help him that he began to cry as he and I walked to buy him some food.
He shared his history with me — a life of mistakes and traumas, hurting people, and separating from his family — and said he was currently suffering from a severe illness. His words expressed the feeling of a man who felt abandoned, so I embraced him and tried to share with him the great love of God.
I was so moved to share this level of intimacy with him and happy to be in his company that I was almost brought to tears myself. Unfortunately, I had to leave him to go to my geology class, but before I did, we embraced and thanked each other, him for receiving help and compassion, and me for this opportunity to show love to someone in such a deep way.
He was really like an angel to me, leaving me with a feeling of profound gratitude, one which I may have missed had I not listened to this invitation from God calling me to serve: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me” (Mt 25:40-45).
I have been volunteering with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a community that ministers at a shelter in the South Bronx, and sharing in the joy of serving the poor and witnessing their great works of charity. In New York City, a place filled with abandoned people, they represent a presence of real Christian love.
At the heart of my experience, God has enlightened me to see that the Gospel is true, “Blessed are the poor,” and through them, others might experience this blessing as well.
Liam Mullan, a student at Hunter College, is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and a volunteer at St. Anthony’s Shelter for the Renewal.