Eugene has come to our parish for years. I'm glad he's there. We greet him cheerfully and sometimes get a word or two in response. He must have his camp somewhere nearby. I wonder where he lives. Does he have a warm sleeping bag, a tent to keep him dry? Does he camp under a bridge? Does he have a mother who prays for him, a family who remembers him? Is anyone's heart broken over what this man has become? Once he was someone's little boy. What is his story? The other day I watched him empty a quart sized bottle of hand sanitizer into his water bottle; presumably it was his next drink. I wonder how many of those bottles he's emptied. I wonder if that's how he keeps warm on these cold nights.
Is Eugene just another homeless man, or is he the very presence of Christ among us? Our faith teaches us to see the image of Jesus in everyone, and that what we do for "the least of these", whom Christ calls his brethren, we do to Jesus Himself. I was lying in bed Sunday night, sleepless, and thinking about Eugene. I remembered Tolstoy's story of the Shoemaker Martin who so desired to see Jesus. He was visited by different people, waiting for his Lord, but only met with common folks in need. He welcomed each, sharing and giving hospitality, but Jesus never came. In the end, Jesus reveals that it really was He who had come, and that Martin had indeed welcomed Him.
Someday I will stand before Jesus, and I will be judged on how I cared for - or didn't care for - the Eugenes of this world. It's a pretty thing to go to church on Sunday, to prepare my heart to worship Christ, to receive Him. But how often do I miss seeing Him, grubby and smelly, in the face of the stranger on the corner or the homeless man reaching into the bowl of fruit with his dirty hands? I don't know how to "help" Eugene. I can continue to smile at him, to greet him warmly, to treat him with love. I could pray for him more regularly, knowing he needs healing of mind and spirit.
I was at the store yesterday, something I'd rather avoid at this time of year. The friendly cashier asked me if I was "ready for Christmas". I know what she meant, but my thoughts turned to more than lists checked off and presents bought. Is my heart ready to receive Christ? Is there "room in the inn" for Him, room in my life? As I ponder the incarnation, God clothing himself in humanity, I think of Eugene and those like him. It is here I have a chance to love my Lord, by caring for the least of these, His brothers and sisters. May I be faithful to see the face of Christ and pour myself out for them.