“So great are the poor in the sight of God that it was especially for them that Jesus was sent into the world … Friendship with the poor makes us friends of the Eternal King.” (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
The hard lessons in living with poor families in Navotas helped me to experience the nearness of Jesus. I frequently sensed Jesus’ presence as I lived with host my families. One has to be careful not to romanticize poverty or idealize living among the poor and marginalized. In and of itself, poverty does not exalt. However, Jesus hides in the least of our brothers and sisters. He lived most of his life in Nazareth, a village in the backcountry of Galilee, among those who have less than more. Jesus’ love was inclusive of everyone, but he showed a consistent preference for the least and neglected in society. He shared their pain, loneliness, and desolation.
Jesus kept his promise to be present in his poor. He was “in disguised” as I spent time in Navotas and with the boys in the Tuklasan Center for street kids. I can’t really explain it, but the more I befriended my host families, the more I felt close to him. His face was revealed more clearly to me. Maybe it’s because generally poor people are more generous in sharing (as in the story of the widow’s mite); maybe because they live day by day and have a greater need to depend on God’s providential care; maybe because they don’t have the means to store unnecessary things. I really don’t know the reasons. But I do know that my friendship with him grew as I befriended members of my host families, especially the children.
This identification of Jesus with the poor is not new to me. But the lesson takes on a newness - at a level of truth - that captivates me, like the look of the little girl in the photo. For St Ignatius, to be a “friend of Jesus” is to be a friend of the poor.
How can you and I embrace this truth in our lives? How can we allow this truth to take hold of us?