The soft hums and rhythmic whirring of our car filled the awe-filled silence as we drove through the city of St. Augustine, Florida. Ancient buildings and rich green palm trees rushed by my eyes as I stared out the window, wanting to remember every detail. The bright summer sun illuminated every walkway, shined in every reflection, and beamed its heat on pedestrians as they strolled along. I watched them, intrigued with their vastly different lives – shopping bags and cameras in the hands of tourists, and dog leashes and sandwiches in the hands of the locals. Yet they all convened here, walking the same sidewalks, nonchalantly passing by each other without a glance or a nod.
It was a warm, Friday afternoon in June. The year was 2017, and my family and I had decided to sightsee the old churches and historic sites here during our week-long camping beach vacation. We planned to begin our day by visiting the oldest Catholic church in Florida, and the nation’s first Catholic parish, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. Its tall spires and Spanish colonial architecture immediately drew me in, catching the beautiful steeple while we approached, my dad looking for a parking meter with an empty spot. Luckily, we found one, right across the street from the Cathedral. God surely saved this spot for us, because soon after, my perspective on that common indifference was entirely changed.
We parallel-parked by the meter and when my dad got out to pay, he couldn’t figure out how to work it. An older-looking homeless man was riding his bicycle nearby, and noticed my dad struggling. He rode over to help, saying it was pretty finicky sometimes, and showed my dad what to move around in order to get it functioning again. He seemed to know his way around the machinery, as if he had helped many people before us. His kind smile shone through his combed white beard as they made small talk, their laughter resonating around us.
As a thank you for his help, my dad walked around to the trunk of our car and opened it, revealing a small storage container full of camping food that we were traveling with for the week. He pulled out a couple bags of everything bagels and some fruit, handing them to the man, grateful for his company and aid. At first, he politely refused, but at my dad’s insistence, embraced the gift with pure joy and so much humility. He placed the food in the basket of his bicycle and his eyes squinted, not because of the bright light of the sun, but because he was grinning ear to ear.
But that was not the end.
As we waved our goodbyes, we watched as the man rode his bicycle towards a small pavilion, a plaza where other homeless people were conversing in groups in the favorable weather. When he reached where they were sitting, he parked his bike against a pillar and walked towards them, first one group then another, handing out the bags of bagels and fruit. We were stunned. His selflessness and immediate thought of others before himself was astounding. He sat down amidst them and so much happiness filled his heart that he began to laugh, bringing even more spirit into our hearts. Oh how I saw Jesus in this man, my eyes opened to his charity, breaking bread with the outcast and the lowly, serving the needs of others before his own. I was in awe as we walked towards the Basilica, and I knew in my heart that I would never forget this interaction.
I feel that so often as a society, we shy away from people in need because it can inconvenience us or make us feel uncomfortable. However, we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and comforting the sick. As we connected with this man, I realized just how fortunate I am, and that I often take for granted the blessings given to me. In watching him serve his fellow companions, this man poured out his heart fully and completely. It humbled me right where I stood as I saw the Holy Spirit truly dwelling inside of him, turning souls towards the Father.
In this season of Lent, how can we proactively put the well-being of others in the forefront of our minds? Let’s purposely choose to do good, even when it’s difficult, and always choose love. This stranger that saw our need did not expect anything in return for his services; he simply served out of the goodness of his own heart. He could have chuckled at our predicament, our camping clothes and our lost eyes that starkly separated us from the locals, and even as tourists, we were a bit odd. But it was like he saw directly into our hearts, just as the Lord delights in His children, cherishing us in our brokenness and loving us just the same.
When this man went to distribute his gifts to the others, how could I not see him as if he were a direct representation of our Lord when He fed His disciples with only a few loaves of bread. They were amazed and grateful, and he was generous and compassionate. May we continue in his example, breaking barriers and breaking bread with each other. Such love has no language, no limit, and no end
Gabriela is a 21 year old cradle Catholic from Georgia who is attending University for a degree in Nursing. She loves music and singing, and is currently in a season of life dating her boyfriend of almost a year and a half. She has a passion for listening and helping others, and loves to go on outdoor adventures, like hiking and discovering new places in nature. She also runs a personal Catholic blog on Instagram called The Candid Catholic, and would love to have you join her in her mission to authentically spread the Gospel.” You can find her on Instagram @thecandidcatholic.