Radical Compassion - Sharing Page

As you read the book, read along with the sharing people sent us during Lent.
Consider how you have been blessed
meeting the people to whom Fr. Gary introduces us.

The Words of Fr. Gary Smith, S.J.

The pearls of my life are what I treasure the most, what I am willign to pay the price for, what I bet my life on, what I count as the greatest gifts of my life.




I always feel so inadequate when I am in the presence of someone who is dying. I know that I am just an instrument to prepare the way, a witness to the presence of the holy.




God, give me the wisdom and courage to be with this man if he chooses to take me along. His pain is my pain.




Robert: Alone in a Skid Row hotel, in a hot, smelly room. Alone, feeling bad about himself. I thought while we were chatting that he must cry a lot; I sensed simultaneously in him an off-the-charts interior pain and an enormous reservoir of sensitivity.




We were the apple and the orange, united and bound by the searching love of our mutual Creator.




I always feel so inadequate when I am in the presence of someone who is dying. I know that I am just an instrument to prepare the way, a witness to the presence of the holy.




The imprisoned are the poorest of the poor.




My words sound so empty. I can say, "God loves you," and I have said that, but it sounds so wooden in the face of certain kinds of suffering.




"Two men, two human beings, both very sick. It always brings me to my knees. I thought of the words of Abraham Heschel: When I see a man ... I see the only entity in nature with which sanctity is associated."




"I realize that God brought me into this world, blessed with skills and talents. The only thing that makes sense to me is to use them in the service of the poor. It is at their feet that I find myself."




"Here is the mystery: God gets hold of things and people and uses them to bring me to life. Therein lies another mystery: I too am a channel of God's comfort for all whom God will bring into my life."




"There are lots of self-perceived dead people walking aroudn on the streets. Society has names for all the nameless brothers and sisters of the night: addicts, bums, panhandlers, crackheads, hokers, wackos. Many consider themselves dead becasue no one ever told them about the beauty of their lives."




"The Gospels and the documents of the church speak directly to the notion of solidarity with the poor. Books have been written on it. Sermons have been preached on it. But the poor themselves instruct me in the practical realities of this notion."




"The poor teach me that serving them is not just some sort of Christian imperative. Rather, it is in serving them that I can discover, like the church, what is best in my own heart."




"It is true that the church must be in many places and with many people, but it is the poor who will reveal to the church -- dramatically and poignantly -- the nature of its heart and mission.





The Gospels and the documents of the church speak directly to the notion of solidarity with the poor. Books have been written on it. Sermons have been preached on it. But the poor themselves instruct me in the practical realities of this notion. I find out about them by entering their world. Solidarity with them means knowing them, their sights and smells and sounds, their hopes and deprivations.




"There are two faces of grief worn by the partners of those who die: one is the face of emptiness that comes with the loss of the beloved, and the other is the face of fear preciptated by the reality of going it alone."




Desire. Isn't that all that really matters? The desire to love and be loved and the desire to know and love God, who is the author of such all-encompassing desire. And emerging from this truth area ll these other desires that drive my life: the desire to understand life, the desire to be faithful to the love I have for those I most cherish, the desire to be a Jesuit who has interior knowledge of his vocation, the desire to find my life with the poor, and the desire to passionately live and preach the gospel.

I thank the One who fills me with desire ... and who desires me."



"When this disease claims a victim, there are few human bankruptcies that can match it. But I always have hope, and I believe that the power of God is greater than our own helplessness and stupidity."



"I have seen love flourish among the people I serve, where the happiness of the belvoed was all that mattered. Such love is not easy, but it exists and reminds me constatsnly of that divine spark in all of us to love and be loved."



"You want to know about indignity inflicted on another human being? Talk to a woman of the streets."



"If I am called to anything as a priest and as a Christian, I am caled to stride into -- not run from -- the untidiness and fear and brokenness and shame that is aruond me, that country of humanness in which we all live and share."



"[Women] have taught me that the function of my chosen celibacy is not to be loveless but to contribute to the great treasure of love and sacrifice needed by humankind."



"Mary pulled out a five-dollar bill and told me to go buy myself a hot dog and beer.... It was one of those moments to die for. After rent, five dollars is actually a significant percentage of her monthly budget. It was the unmatchable gift that only the poor are capable of offering. I accepted it, knowing that her need to share was much more important than my santimonious tendency to decline."



"He wanted to express his gratitude for waht I had done, for my being with him in his time of crisis. I accepted the gift of gratitude even though I was aware that the praise belonged in another place, for surely he had been brought to me. I was only an instrument in a divine reality much bigger than the two of us."



"There is in the world of nature constant renewal; as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in his poem, "God Grandeur," "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things." This renewal also takes place in our own hearts. IN this renewal and in her hope for herself, Melinda will realize her own feelings and thoughts, her wishes, interests, resources and movements of love."



"In this least Society of Jesus, the heart of God has destined that we discover ourselves, even as we help others find themselves. The common bond among Jesuits is that we are all into Jesus. We've all been taken by the call of Christ the king; we all want to carry his torch into the city of darkness. He is the steel band that lashes us all together."



"[Frank] described his pain, a result of his illness, paranoid schizophrenia, and the hard life he has lived.... It is in the presence of Frank that I am drawn out of myself and set off down the path that will lead me to the wounded and along which I will find my life and my holiness. Frank teaches me the ways to the fundamental task of the church, which is to tell the poor of the world that God loves them."



"Out of the rubble of my life -- so undeserving, insignificant, obscure, and screwed up -- Jesus crafts someone who will, in spite of himself, bear fruit for the kingdom and the glory of God. It never ceases to amaze me."



"My experience with the mentally ill on the streets is that there is a place in them that is sacred, and they can touch it in the presence of one whom they can trust, a person committed to walking with them through the minefields."



"That is often the way for people with no power, no money, no exterior beauty.  They have nothing to prove.  And so Stewart is non-threatening. He crashes through my defenses. He brings out what is good, whole and deep down in me: the ability to love tenderly, speak truthfully, receive openly and face gently my own weaknesses."


"In the midst of one-way conversations, I am communicating all the time. I try to affirm this human being, so lost in his own world of memories, bitter and sweet."


"My experience with thementally ill on the streets is that there is a place in them that is sacred, and they can touch it in the presence of one whom they can trust, a person committed ot walking with them through the minefields."



"As I was walking to my residence, I thought of his last remark, A beautiful thought. A beautiful thought. When I think of him, it is a beautiful thought. Theo teaches me about being myself, and he touches the deepest part of my heart. How can it be otherwise? With Theo, I am in the presence of one who has no agenda, who transparently cares for me and could give a shit about any of the things that are supposed to impress peole. He takes me purely as I am, which allows me to be who I am. That is the way we all want to be before the sweet heart of God."



"The poor teach me that serving them is not just some sort of Christian imperative.  Rather, it is in serving them that I discover, like the Church, what is best in my own heart."

Final Sharing for Lent

I loved his imagery of the Roofers! It's such a lesson for all of us. It's the story of Fr. Gary's friend, Wells, who is dying of MS. Over the years a group of Wells' friends gather around to pay for his needs, to take him where he needs to go. Wells called them the Roofers, like the friends in Mark's gospel who carry the sick man on the litter to the roof, move aside the tiles and lower the sick man to Jesus.

The Roofers were a diverse group of long-time friends, people who loved him. At Well's funeral, one of the Roofers said that the Roofers never thought about what they did for Wells.

He really knew what it meant to be a Roofer. Most of us didn't have a clue. We Roofers just did as we were told. We carried him around and then up to the roof.

He described Wells telling them what to do:

"Just bring me here. Do this. Do that. Bring me right up to the roof. You can do it. Now tear off those tiles, and look down and see if Jesus is there. Okay, now lower me down. Carefully."

No questions asked. Okay, Wells. Here we go, buddy. Down you go.

And then the universe stops still. The Lord looks up toward the roof and sees us, the Roofers. And we are amazed. That's what it's all about.

That section of Chapter 12 still gives me chills.

I have finished reading Radical Compassion and this reflection sums up my experience and response to it. I decided to read Radical Compassion this Lent because I fear that I often make Lent something over spiritualized--too inward turning--too much just Jesus and me. In my work as a pastor, I encounter the homeless and hungry people that Fr Gary describes, and I am often frustrated by their patterns of failure to reach out and benefit from help. At times I have felt myself drift into judging them. But I know that Jesus loves them and Fr Gary's stories remind me that the only way to love anyone is to accompany them and to meet them where they are--without judging or trying to fix them. When we do this we receive the gifts of relationship and the ability to see how beautiful each of God's children truly is--on the inside beyond the outer wounds and pain. This loving response to people works for the poor and homeless and for everyone else we meet too. I needed this book.
Linda C. IL

There it was -- page 177 -- the comfort, the depth of feeling, the words I was seeking. "Is anything more devastating than the loss of a best friend?" The words are not about me, or are they? Throughout the book, Gary Smith's heartfelt stories of life among the homeless and near homeless ring painfully true. I could have supplied many of the names, they are so similar to people with whom I worked for many years in Appalachia. The sorrows, the tragedies, the devastation are all familiar, as are the joys and love and caring shared with people surviving and struggling at "the bottom of the heap." Karen and Sharon (not their real names) were fellow nurses who introduced me to that work, providing professional guidance, personal care, encouragement, and stimulation to dedicate a good portion of my own career to providing clinical care and indeed, the clinic and homeless center itself, for people living and dying without house or home.

As I read the book, my heart beat in empathy with Gary Smith, his co-workers, and his street friends. At the same time, each recollection seemed to cause fresh grief, fresh reminders of personal loss. Karen and Sharon were both killed in a car crash just before Christmas. Plans we'd made together for the future, conversations and visits dreamed of but not yet reality, all are gone with them. The memories remain, but they seem scant consolation in face of enormous loss. But here are words of comprehension, "When a best friend dies, a piece of us dies, too, and we become like a separated Siamese twin, once joined at the heart to a soul mate and now cut apart and living in another galaxy."

The solace of shared grief offered a healing balm. No miraculous disappearance of the burden, but a soothing breeze. "... the blood of the soul mate still flows in our veins, and our hearts still bear the indelible imprint of another heart." That impression matches the imprint on many other hearts, and I thank Gary Smith for making that apparent.

When I was reading this book, I had a hard time putting it down because it was so good and so real. But when I had put it down temporarily to return to my "real life" I would wonder if I wanted to keep reading it. It's hard to read about people whose lives are so difficult and so lost. But always, always Fr. Smith brings me back to their humanity: "...if we accept it and enter into the lives of other suffering human beings, we touch the holy - others and in ourselves." This was a magnificent book.

The story of Eddie and his letter to Fr. Gary is so profoundly moving. It is an inside look at a childhood of abuse and with no love. Eddie developed depression and paranoia and it's hard to imagine how he every survived his childhood, much less life on the streets. Fr. Gary is right - if we only knew the stories of each person on the streets, we would love them in a new way. (Chapter 10)

Gary Smith's account of Robert touched me deeply. One of my sons has much in common with him. He has been addicted to drugs and alcohol for several years. He has attempted suicide twice. Over the past 15 years we found help for him numerous times. Rarely did he complete the programs. My wife and I have been an enablers because we felt it was our fault. He ran away shortly after we adopted four older children from Latin America. Only recently did we stop enabling him. It was so hard to come to this point. It has been freeing and frightening to us.

I am finally able to say that I did what I could. I made numerous mistakes on that long and lonely road. I hated him for the pain he repeatedly caused our family. Some times I wished he would never come back. But he always does. I think he knows that we will always love him.

I draw inspiration and courage from Fr. Gary Smith. He consistently stuck with people who abused alcohol and drugs. He was faithful, honest, loving and firm. That is so hard to do. Sometimes compassion is so difficult. Maybe the next time my beautiful little baby-boy-man comes home I will do a better job thanks to Radical Compassion. (Chapter 11)

-- Jim 

I found that one of the most moving parts of Gary Smith's book was Chapter 11, "The Leper: Robert's Story."  Maybe this was because it was the most extended story.  Father Gary documents in detail his first meeting with 38-year-old "manic-depressive, homosexual, drug addicted and HIV positive" Robert and then provides a diary of subsequent encounters up until Robert's death and memorial service.  Even as I reread these pages, my eyes fill, and I sobbed when I read this chapter the first time.  This is a conversion story--both for Robert, who was eventually baptized, and for Gary Smith, who had initially admitted to feeling a disgust for Robert's behavior as well as what he would later refer to as his "latent homophobia."  The drama found in the development of the relationship between these two men--"the apple and the orange"--was compelling, riveting.  As his body wasted away, Robert grew in faith, friendship, and love.  By the time he died--very poignantly described--he had truly experienced God's grace--and enabled others to do so as well; he had broken them open.  Robert's beautiful farewell note to Gary was a testament to the importance of being present in the lives of the poor and suffering.  His gratitude was such an affirmation of Gary Smith's life and work and a call for us all to reach out to society's lepers.


Jail changes people, especially if you are the one arrested. It does not matter if you are in there 5 minutes or 500 years. When you walk out of a jail, you are not the same person as when you walked in. A great deal of the change happens with the loss of freedom. There is no such thing as Innocent or Guilty in jail. Of all the chapters, I think I am most disappointed in this one. I am not surprised. When I read books or chapters about ministry or compassion within the prison system, I am always looking for something specific and I rarely find it.

Most people, even those who do Jail Ministry, do not understand what it is like... The way being in jail can quickly strip people (innocent and guilty alike) of their humanity. Fr. Smith himself admitted in this chapter, "Only another human being who has experienced suffering in his or her bones can presume to walk with the hurting man or woman." Being in jail is a specific kind of suffering. Unfortunately, ministers who go there are rarely prepared for what they encounter.

In jail, the innocent sometimes consider that they might be guilty and the guilty often try to show they are innocent. This oddity comes from the American concept of "Blind Justice." Most people do not understand the larger ramifications of it. Blind Justice means that everyone in the justice system (especially in prisons) is reduced to the Lowest Common Denominator. In other words, everyone is equal because no one means anything. To add insult to injury, slogans like "Innocent until proven guilty" are spoken as if they are a lived reality. The lived reality is this: Innocent until proven guilty in the court of law; guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

This brings me to "God's Justice." God's Justice offers hope to those (innocent and guilty) who find themselves in jail. God's Justice is "Sighted Justice." Everyone is equal, because everyone means something incredibly special to God. This does not mean that the guilty go free or are allowed to harm others again, but it means that they are seen and held as human beings when they are in the system, instead of the animals American Media often paints them as. What an amazing transformation would occur within the justice and penal system if we operated out of God's Justice! (Chapter 9)

Fr. Smith seems to be so good at ministering to the "least" of that world because he opens his heart so completely to his own failures and his own inadequacies and the many challenges he has faced. He uses those pains of his past life to open his heart more to those who are in deep pain now. What a remarkable ability! Jesus, open my heart to more compassion.

I was struck by Gary's discomfort sometimes with the people he serves. In Chapter 8 he watches Sandy have a "pseudo-seizure" because she needs attention. He seems so human when he almost rolls his eyes as he is writing about her. I can feel his frustration. He says to himself that she can be repulsive and gets in the way of his orderly way of living.

Then he does something I might not do: he stops himself. "The joke is on me. There isn't any order down here, Gary; you are living and working with people who do not see it your way." Like a man steering a boat, he corrects his course instantly and realizes he is staring into the "paradox of God's love: that the greatest in the kingdom of God are the least of my brothers and sisters."

May I have that insight and humility and grace in my life, to accept and walk with people as they are and not worry about how their messiness affects my own life.


As I read this chapter, I thought of the "street scenes" that exist within my own experience. I have a unique view from my office... It over-looks pretty much all of the Northeast side of Creighton's campus. Before I even started to work here, people told me that my office is known as the "Penthouse" because it is on the top floor of my building and there are many glass windows around it. As an avid "people watcher," I enjoy my space a great deal, but I also use it as a window to the world around me. Working on an Inner-City Campus, my office gives me a unique view of the city.

I can see Interstate-480 to the West, with its endless stream of cars. Just beyond there and to the North, I can see the various houses and apartments that are HUD (Housing & Urban Development) subsidized -- minus the apartments rented out primarily to students. As my gaze continues across the northern boundary, there is the urge to glance quickly past some of the poorest parts of the city. To the distant North is the local airport. Watching planes take off and land is so much more interesting that thinking about the marginalized, poor and oppressed. Yes, it is so easy to gloss over the buildings that act as shelters for the homeless; the abandon warehouses, which Fr. Smith points out, are being renovated and sold or rented out to only the richest of the rich. I am struck by how ironic it is to have the richest people living next to the poorest. Like Fr. Smith, I wonder how long it will be before the poor here are forced to move somewhere else.

As my gaze continues to the East, I see all the new developments of Downtown Omaha and I see the construction of Creighton's progress. Then my gaze falls on campus itself. I see one of the Jesuit residences from my window and I can see the building of St. John's Church, if I step outside my office. That causes me to pause: as I see campus grow and change, I question more each day if Creighton is still the Inner-City campus that it seems so proud of selling itself as being. If I could ask Fr. Smith one thing, I would ask him about all of this. I would ask him if he has a way to reconcile Creighton's growth and expansion with the Catholic ideal of "Preferential Option for the Poor" and the Jesuit commitment to social justice.

Finally, I look at the discrepancies within my own heart and soul. There are many times that I see people begging for money. I do not stop; I do not help... Society has trained me that, as a single female, it would be unsafe and unwise to do anything. "You might get hurt," is a phrase always ringing in my ears. However, I do take stock of their existence. I ask myself, "How often have I shown that to them?" In the midst of poverty and homelessness, offering a gesture of "I know you exist and are suffering" seems somehow empty, as if it mocks their pain. The fear, that acknowledging their pain without providing a way to alleviate it might make that pain worse, always stops me in my tracks. From this chapter, I am learning that it really is all about acknowledging their existence. Even if they cannot receive the significance of being recognized as human... even if they get angry that, I am "not doing enough." Sometimes, acknowledging a person as a fellow human can do more than only acknowledging their life circumstance.

I bought Fr. Smith's book in preparation for this year's Lenten season and have been engrossed in it and his wonderful reflections.  I also am trying to use it as a "reverse engineering" project for an 18 year grandson of friends of mine who is at this tender age well on his way to becoming like the street people Fr. works with. James is into substance abuse and alcohol abuse and obtaining an ever increasing criminal record.  It is my hope that upon his release from jail in the next six weeks, he'll begin to read this book and see his eventual self in the lives of those Fr. Smith tells us about.  While I know this seems like an impersonal and finger pointing use of the "radical compassion" offered by Fr. Smith to his flock, the tragedy and trajectory of their lives might also serve as the beginning of salvation for this hapless youth before he reaches a bottom from which he cannot recover.

On a lighter side, when I finish the book, I am going to give it to a priest friend whose ministry is much like Fr. Smith'.s and who will see in it some of his own work as God's instrument of salvation.

-- Dave Z., Detroit

Fr. Smith writes that street women in prostitution are a dumping ground for things our culture doesn't want to deal with - sexual abberations, male power, anonymous sex etc. That world where so many are living, so many women driven by the economy to earn money in the most humiliating way, is like a foreign land to me. How can I help?

He says, These women "are not chunks of meat, but images of the heart of God." Thank you, Fr. Smith for caring so much.

My son has been reading Radical Compassion for his Justice and Solidarity Gr12 class.
He brought it home and told me that he thought I would really like it. I have recently been "walking" with a young homeless man. Gary Smith's life and his Love for the Poor, is beyond inspirational for me at this time in my life. I truly feel Blessed by his honest, humble and God-filled walk with those, society seems to deem useless. As I say to my three sons, "God Loves EVERYONE," there are no exceptions.
Thank you for His Amazing Grace!
-- Sherrill

I can think of no more beauiful prayer than Gary's prayer for Brenda. He knows there is no "quick fix" for her life and that any solution he offers her probably won't work. But with such deep trust and humility, he simply says, "I give her to you tonight, Lord. Use me in her life if you want.

May I be that open and available and trusting for whatever God wants me to do. Where are you calling me?

I'm reading chapter 3 and was touched particularly by the story of Theo who prays for God and calls Him "Sweetheart".  I found myself wishing that I had that intimacy with God that would allow me to be comfortable calling God Sweetheart.   How God must love being Theo's Sweetheart  and how much must He yearn to be ours as well!   Theo is a reminder to stop worrying about correct theology and to simply come to God and focus on His love for me.
-- Jo, Arkansas

Gary writes about someone very poor giving him a gift and he decides not to be "sanctimonious" and decline it. Wow. I think of the number of times in my own life I have sanctimoniously declined gifts from the heart because I knew they couldn't afford. It never occurred to me what a slap in the face that must have been for them. It puts me in a superior role, deciding for someone else, how they should spend their money.

I am ashamed.

I saw the Gospel about the Prodigal Son (or the Prodigal Father as one priest said because of the father's extreme generosity) in the light of Fr. Gary's journal of being amongst the poor.  I, too, have had experiences with the poor - not as consistently as Fr. Gary, but enough so that I know how one can see past the outer anger and crudeness to see God's (and some mother's) child.  At the same time, I would like to hear how he works through the difficulties of dealing with the ignorance and meanness.  The greatest difficulty I found was knowing how to respond in love - which doesn't always mean a gentle answer.  Was it 'loving' to tell the alcoholic that he wouldn't talk anymore until the alcoholic was sober or was it just weariness in hearing the rambling talk that was going nowhere?  On other occasions, Fr. Gary perseveres in spite of the evident unwillingness to change on the part of the one he is connecting with.  In my experience, one only has to hope that one is being guided by the Holy Spirit and not reacting on a human level - or that, if because of weariness, we do react, that the Father will bring good out of our impatience, our desire to control, our selfishness.

The Gospel story doesn't explain how the Prodigal Father deals with his two sons on a day-to-day basis after the banquet is over - or what the other brother decides to do.  Does he continue to obey his father and come to the banquet or does he stay outside grumbling?  If he comes to the banquet, can he refrain from making some snippy comments?  What does the father, then, say?  If the other brother stays outside, does the father come back to try to convince him that he is hurting himself and his father?  Does the Prodigal Son ask his brother's forgiveness?  Do they become reconciled?  What happens to him when the father dies?  His inheritance has been wasted.  Will his brother share his inheritance?  Will the Prodigal Son, like so many of the drug addicts Fr. Gary knows, go seeking pleasure elsewhere again after he is rested and fed?

Most of us reflecting on the Gospel can identify with the non-Prodigal brother.  We have few chances to love someone who walks off with half of what we have and then comes home again.  We probably haven't wasted all our gifts or have had to watch the pigs eat while we were hungry.  We have worked hard, tried to be obedient to our Father's will, enjoyed his gifts on a daily basis, but have never felt singled out where we receive special gifts (like getting a robe and a ring or feeling close to God in the poor the way Fr. Gary does on a daily basis).  Why has God chosen Fr. Gary to work among the poor?  As in another reading this past week, Fr. Gary is not going to be like Lazarus, wishing that he had listened to the prophets.  When we read that story, don't we wonder who are the ones we have ignored while our tables are full?  And, the sober alcoholic has the ring and robe while, we, like the obedient brother, are left outside, wondering where we went wrong.

But that brings to mind another Gospel story about the vineyard owner who hired workers all day, but gave each one the same pay.  Again, the workers who worked hard were resentful.  Yet, in another story, Jesus says who expects servants to be specially rewarded for doing their jobs?  Like Peter's mother-in-law, we are healed and go back to work. 

When I read Fr. Gary's stories, I wish I were there, chosen to work among the poor, or sometimes, think that a righteous person would lobby for better laws against cockroaches and wish I had the talents to be a politician, but, in the end, look for ways to serve the Lord in his people closer to where I am like  St. Therese, the Little Flower.  I hope that others hear God's call, His choice for them, in Fr. Gary's stories to serve the poor or to work for justice.  Truly, blessed are the poor and blessed are those who serve them.

The story of Cora and Wiley brought me to tears. Such a deep love she had for this man - and I would have seen nothing but a blind, bed-ridden man with an aputated leg.

And Fr. Gary's response? To wonder that God sends Cora and Wiley into his life to remind him of the deepest sort of love, the kind with no bottom to the well, the kind God has for me - for each one of us.

Radical Compassion has so many lessons to teach. It is so readable! But for some reason, I find that I am avoiding reading it every day, even though I love it.  At first I thought I was just "slowing down" so I didn't gobble it and finish too quickly.  But truthfully, it touches me so much AND it frightens me with the challenge to truly love everyone! That's the honest truth. 

I was so moved by the description of the birthday party with Ronald--true generosity is such a manifestation of God's love for us.  But when I read Fr. Gary's assessment:  "Ronald touched my heart because he would not allow my sophistication to impede his truth and goodness." And to put the passage from 1 Cor. 1:27-28, "No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning...."
So much for being insulated from harsh realities by sophistication, education, privilege. My Lenten prayer, "Lord, show me what needs to change."  I pray for the grace to listen and the courage to act!  
-- Susan 

He reminds me to take off my blinders and see the people living every day in the margins of our society, right here in the wealthiest country on earth.  He makes them real human beings by telling their stories.  It is so easy to pretend they do not exist, or when faced with their reality, to compartmentalize them as lesser beings.  I have so far to go to truly live up to the command to love one another.

What are you Into?:  The Search for Indignation

A typical day in my life is filled with busyness. Too often I hear criticism about others, the way some project was completed, the words that were spoken or not spoken, the way that someone looks or dresses, the ongoing put downs of others.  While reading this chapter, I realized the motivator for my life is the unconditional love that I experience from knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior.  May I learn how to have the heart of Christ to love others for how God created them.   As Gary Smith states," I succumb-in love- to the God who has given me my identity in the first place."  Recognizing and practicing this daily will help me be a better Christian, sharing the grace and love of Jesus.

Fr. Smith writes about his vocation so movingly, starting with the words of Jesus, "You did not choose me, no, I chose you ... to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last." There is a call to each of us through this book, a choosing by Jesus to follow him. I don't have to be a Jesuit priest to live it out - I am being called in exactly the place I am today.

As I read this book and reflect on it this Lent, I am really struck by such an elementary idea - "those people" I see on the street every day are real. They have families and past lives and real pain every day. I never really saw them as individuals and the shame I feel in that embarrasses me, but I don't want to slip into my own guilt. I just want to be aware of my brothers and sisters whose lives are so different than mine and to ponder where Jesus is calling me in this.

Chapter 3: Talking with Mannequins.
All the stories in the book are touching; each one reminds me of just how good I have it and just how close I came to losing everything when I spent six months unemployed. However, nothing to me was more powerful than the story of Noel. I knew this story had touched me in a special way, because I cried at the end of it... I am not a person who cries easily.

It took me awhile to discover why I was so moved by this one story. Rereading it, it hit me: "Noel was a soft touch, which meant two things: first, he would care for hurting people who were on the streets ... and second, he would be taken advantage of by predators" (page 35). The phrase reminded me of St. Ignatius Loyola. In the first seven or so years following his conversion, Ignatius did exactly what Noel did: cared for everyone on the streets who needed help. Ignatius took this to an extreme by begging for food and money, keeping only the smallest amount necessary to sustain him and giving the rest away to strangers. We cannot be sure of the number of times people may have taken advantage of Ignatius' selfless trust in humanity however, we know from his Autobiography that when he went to Paris to study he had entrusted all of his money to a Spaniard he lived with. This same person spent the money, which should have lasted for two years, in just a few months. This act left Ignatius penniless. Ignatius was a radical, though, and when this same Spaniard became ill, Ignatius went to visit him, offering forgiveness. It seems easy to see some of the parallels between Ignatius and Noel.

As I read on, learned of Noel's death and Fr. Smith's reactions and insights, I was oddly comforted. There was comfort (and it is a comfort I find throughout the book), thinking that Noel did not die some "nameless nobody" on the streets. The same can be said for each of the people Fr. Smith writes about in his book. These individuals die with someone remembering them. I ask myself, "Don't we all want to die being remembered? Don't we all want to die feeling we made a difference to someone? Why would the poor, homeless and marginalized be any different?"

Fr. Smith mentioned Noel's laughter. He talked about the strength he gained when Noel said he was praying for him. He will remember the small greetings that Noel offered, forever. As is so often the case, it is not big actions, money or things for which we remember people; it's the small gestures. Those moments that slowly work on us to change us forever. That reflection made me think of my Grandmother.

In 2006, she passed away on my Birthday, but she left me with the greatest of Birthday gifts. Among her last words in this life were words to wish me a "Happy Birthday." That experience taught me to think about how often I take little well wishes for granted: "Happy Birthday" "Good morning" "Have a good weekend." These are small expressions to show that we exist in each other's universe. My Grandmother and Fr. Smith's reflection on Noel remind me to cherish these greetings. Concerning such greetings, I have three rules that I try to practice: 1) when you say it, mean it! (They could be the last words you speak in this life.) 2) When someone says it to you take it as if those are their last words on earth. (Because they just might be!) 3) Treasure any such greeting someone grants you, because they may be the last words you hear in this life.
-- J

What moves me so much about these first chapters is that Gary Smith speaks of this as his journey - his own longing for authenticity. He has a wonderful way of making the anonymous people I see on the street, into real people with lives and history that needs to be told. I am so grateful for his book.

During the month of July 2005 I lived and worked as nurse in La Guamita, a poor village in the lush green mountains of the Dominican Republic. While there I met a woman who changed my life. Behi was old, dirty, and haggard. Her face had  the wrinkles and crinkles of a wadded up newspaper. Smoke from her corn cob pipe frequently obscured her beautiful toothless smile and mischievous eyes. In a very brief time I grew to love her deeply. In her poverty, honesty and wit she dissolved chains that for years had kept me from releasing the child of God within me.. 

During most of my life I hungered "to be real, to be authentic, to be a clear reflection of what my heart holds at its deepest levels." I hungered to release to the world  that tenderness, mercy, and sense of humor God had blessed me with. For years I treated those blessings like salt in an hour glass, sharing a few grains here, a few grains there. Feelings of inadequacy kept inside of me that which God had given me to share. Behi shattered my hourglass and started the salt flow. While Behi taught me the bachata, while we sat in her tiny poor home drinking coffee with her elderly husband, and while we watched her grandchildren chase puny chickens through her house, somehow she freed me to be the real "Jim" , or, as she called me, "Jaime.". 

Behi died last December. But she still dances in my heart. She touched me at my core. Thank you St. Behi.  -- Jim

I think most Christians who are not poor can only be puzzled (if they're honest) by "Blessed are the poor," the first of the Beatitudes according to Luke.  In US culture, we tend to think "cursed are the poor" and "blessed are the rich."  And conversely, I think most of us should be a lot more puzzled by "Blessed are the poor in spirit," the first of the Beatitudes according to Matthew.  We tend to interpret it to mean blessed are those who are not arrogant or are self-effacing or modest.  We domesticate it.  But what if it meant blessed are those who are with the poor, in spirit -- who even if not poor try to share in the lot of the poor, or at least try to understand, non-judgmentally, their experience and perspective, out of a commitment to human solidarity.   Seems to me Gary Smith is bringing these two related beatitudes together in his ministry and his reflections on it.  He, who has taken a vow of poverty but has never lacked for any material or educational advantage, is trying to be with the poor in complete honesty -- in poverty of spirit.  He meets them on their own turf, literally and spiritually.  In that way, I think Radical Compassion may be one of the most authentic commentaries on those two Beatitudes possible.  -- Roger

Ch. 2.  I value his writing style - which is folksy, genuine, self-deprecating, and, then catches the reader off guard by his descriptive adjectives, i.e., p. 8 when he describes housing that is "code defiant."  His writing style and his education of the reader sharpens one's observation skills to see the metaphors and parallels in life between "me and the other."  He truly capture the reader's attention and imagination.  Fr. Smith describes a poor man living in a Single Room Occupancy dwelling and writes this - "I knew another guy who names his roaches after Old Testament prophets." p. 8.  How can you not vision this poor man differently?  This is one of many examples in which Fr. Smith reaches me and I become more reflective..................Beth

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