As a seminarian for the Baton Rouge Diocese for the past six years, I have been assigned to many different parishes during summers in Baton Rouge area. And while I’m in those parishes, I encounter ordinary saints. Every parish has few of them. They are not usually visible for they don’t like to advertise to others the good work they are doing. I met one who was an elderly lady in her eighties. She has dedicated past ten plus years at a nursing home, organizing weekly rosary and communion service and a monthly birthday party for residents.
Have you ever been to a nursing home? The one where she volunteers is an average facility. When you enter, you will first encounter rows of elderly lining the entrance hallway. I asked why they were there, and I was told that they were waiting for their family members. But they never come. To these elderly men and women who were hungry for a human touch, our ordinary saint brings personal attention and smile. She’ll say, “How are you doing today, darling” with a big smile, and the residents return with a deep gratitude for being acknowledged and being loved.
You know, God has a soft spot for the ordinary, little, and hardly recognized persons. We see this in how God chose David over his other older brothers as the King of Israel in today’s First Reading. In making the selection the Prophet Samuel was initially impressed with David’s older brothers. But God gives Samuel a different rule of thumb: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature…Not as man does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”
It is easy to size up someone from their appearance. We see this tendency in our Gospel as well. A blind man was accused of being a sinner because people of that time believed that if you have a handicap, you or your parents must have sinned. Even Jesus was accused of being a sinner because he worked a miracle on a Sabbath when everyone is expected to rest. In the Gospel, we can see that Pharisees are the truly blind ones unable to see their Lord and their God standing right before them. Where as, the blind man, now healed by Jesus wants to see more than what his physical eyes can see. Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the blind man replies, “Who is he, sir that I may believe in him?” And Jesus replies, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he…I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
If we relied on appearance alone, what our ordinary saint is doing at the nursing home is commendable work, deserving universal praise. But there is something beyond praise-worthy work that is going on here. We need to ask, why is she doing this work? What motivates her? Is it because of pity? Is it because she desires praise? One clue is that she attends daily mass.
Another clue comes from Mother Teresa. She said, what her sisters are doing—taking care of lepers, abandoned children, seeking the poorest of the poor—is impossible without Jesus. She said that’s why they begin each day with mass and receive communion. Jesus in the Eucharist gives the sisters the strength and the grace to recognize him and to serve him in the poorest of the poor. Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
Appearance can be deceiving. Our ordinary saint is not merely serving and smiling at the elderly but serving and smiling at Jesus himself. Unlike our Pharisees of the Gospel, she really sees Jesus like the blind man who was cured. If our rule of thumb is that we cannot give what we do not have, our ordinary saint is giving what she has received from Jesus in the Eucharist.
What keeps us from being an ordinary saint like her?
(Given at St. Stephens Catholic Church, New Orleans)