A Living Tabernacle

Jesus is sacramentally present in the Eucharist; He is also present, in a different way, in the poor. St. John Chrysostom saw the connection between the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and His presence in the poor. In a homily on the Gospel of Matthew, the great saint of the Eastern Church wrote:

Would you honor the body of Christ? Do not despise Him in His nakedness, that is, in the unclothed poor; do not honor Him here in church clothed in silk vestments, and then pass Him by unclothed and frozen outside…. What is the use of loading Christ’s table with gold cups while He Himself is starving? Feed the hungry, and then if you have any money left over spend it on the altar table. Will you make a cup of gold and withhold a cup of water? What use is it to adorn the altar with cloth of gold hangings and deny Christ a coat for His back?…Adorn your house if you will, but do not forget your brother in distress. He is a temple of infinitely greater value.

The once visible Christ who walked on earth, while now present in the Eucharist, has existentially passed to the poor, and to all those whom Jesus referred to when he said, “You did it to me.” Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., in his powerful, little book Poverty makes this clear when he writes:

The poor person is Jesus, still roaming the world unrecognized, rather like when he appeared in different guises after the resurrection to Mary as a gardener, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus as a traveller, to the apostles on the lake as an expert fisherman standing on the shore – waiting for their eyes to be opened with a cry of recognition: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7). If only that same cry of recognition – “It is the Lord!” – could issue from our lips even once, at the sight of a poor person.” [Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1997].

St. Francis, who strove to combine radical detachment with loving care of the downtrodden, learned to see the poor person as a living tabernacle of the poor and despised Christ.


1 Response to “A Living Tabernacle”

  1. 1 krebsjoan June 26, 2015 at 5:47 am

    It occurred to me as I read this: I hope that others see me as Jesus also – there is no disciple so poor as myself. I have deep need for cool water, for support.

    Another thought: the travelers to Emmaus recognized the Christ in their companion. A companion, I need to be Christ for fellow travelers – not necessarily recognized however. It’s the essence of solidarity.

    Thanks for these challenges, Gerry.

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