The Beggar of Heaven
The other night I slipped out of my house to find some solitude and peace while walking under the heavens in the crisp cold night air. The sky was like black velvet dotted with innumerable twinkling stars. It was breathtakingly beautiful and it didn’t take long for me to unite the rhythm of my heart and the steady beat of my walk to the pulse of the Holy Spirit. I lifted my thoughts to the Lord and entered into a long unspoken prayer of the soul as I walked. As I was making my final approach to my home in this deep and recollected state of being, suddenly the Holy Spirit brought to my mind an extraordinary encounter I had with a homeless man named “Roger” on a horridly frigid night outside of the great Westminster Cathedral of London just a few days before Christmas of 2010.
In order to relish in the glorious Christmas spirit that the city of London evokes as it decks it halls with every kind of adornment for this most blessed of seasons, my family decided to leave Israel where we were then living to take a week trip to London. Despite it being the “Holy Land”, Israel feels very dreary at Christmas time for a Christian from abroad who is accustomed to the elaborate holiday displays in their home countries which witness to the sacred event of the birth of the Savior of mankind. One must be in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem or living in other pockets of Christian communities throughout the land to see the expression of Christmas joy manifested in the exterior decoration of homes and neighborhoods. Our family was living in a Jewish town along the coast where our children’s American school was located and there was no evidence anywhere to be found that Christmas was coming – no wreathes, no Christmas trees, no outdoor lights, no Nativity displays, no carols being sung. Some of our Jewish neighbors placed lovely Channuka lights in their windows which brightened the dark nights and shined forth hope during the drab winter season. Although we put up our own Christmas tree inside our home, we wanted to share in the festive and sacred spirit of Christmas with others and so we left for London.
My husband and daughters and I had been Christmas shopping and sightseeing all day in the majestic and bustling city of London. That afternoon I wanted to go to make my Confession before Christmas and to attend Holy Mass at the Westminster Cathedral of London. My family dropped me off across from the great cathedral and went back to the hotel. Considering what I may need for the offering during Mass and the taxi fare back to the hotel, my husband handed me $20 pounds. I walked into the great plaza where the cathedral was situated. It was biting cold on this winter day in the city of London as it was late in the afternoon and the sun was low on the horizon. The wind was also sharp and piercing. I was bundled well, with boots, a heavy overcoat, scarf, hat and gloves. One of my earrings had been bothering me throughout the day as my ear had become infected so I had taken it off. Not having any better place to store it, I placed it inside my rosary case (which was more like a little bag). I had been wearing the diamond studs that my husband had given me for our wedding anniversary some years before.
I was very thirsty, and so before going into the cathedral I stopped at the corner of the great cathedral square where a fast food restaurant was located to buy a bottle of water. Then I noticed that all along the square, under the porticos and along the walls there were homeless men and women strewn out on cardboard beds huddling under ragged blankets and dirty sleeping bags to keep warm against the cruel winter cold. It was a most pitiful sight. My heart broke for them, as I considered their wretched plight. There were so many homeless persons out there in the bitter cold and some were begging for alms from the people who were going into the cathedral for the mass. Their need was so much greater than a few coins or pound notes could satisfy. I felt helpless before their suffering. I entered the great cathedral with a heavy heart. Suspended high above the nave from the ceiling was a huge crucifix of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord have mercy on all these cold and hungry homeless people who are just outside the doors of Your church,” I pleaded to Jesus with my whole heart as I gazed up in humble faith and with yearning hope on behalf of those poor suffering souls just outside the great doors. I wondered how much help they received from the ministries of the great cathedral. I later learned that Westminster Cathedral with other loving Christians such as the nuns of the Daughters of Charity were hard at work to assist these downtrodden who live under the great shadow of Westminster Cathedral and under the ever-watchful eyes of our merciful Lord.
Inside, under the outstretched arms of the Lord Jesus hanging from the Cross above me, I prepared myself to make sacramental confession by examining my conscience. Fully aware of my own wretchedness and knowing the vital need for my soul to be cleansed, I humbly, yet confidently trusting the love and mercy of Jesus, entered into one of the confessional boxes along the nave of the church where an English priest was waiting inside to hear the confessions of the meek and contrite souls who desire reconciliation with their Lord. Indeed, I too, am a beggar and know that I am always dependent on God’s forgiveness and mercy as I am so poor in love and need His grace to be able to do anything good at all.
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)
But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one! (Psalm14:3)
I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
How fervently I desired my conscience to be purified so as to be able to receive my Lord Jesus in Holy Communion worthily at that evening’s mass. I also wanted to “prepare the Infant King Jesus room” in my heart for His arrival on Christmas Day, just a few days hence.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare Him room,
and heaven and nature sing…”
(Christmas Carol, lyrics by Isaac Watts 1674-1748)
I opened my heart’s secrets to the priest who heard my confession “in Persona Christi” and I walked out of the confessional box with immense joy knowing that my soul had been forgiven and fully cleansed by the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
The penance that the English priest had given me during my confession was to say a rosary. I determined that I would pray the rosary before I left the Cathedral that evening. So after Mass I stayed to recite the rosary. I opened my rosary case and not recalling the diamond earring that had been put into the little bag I pulled out my rosary and began to pray with a heart full of contrition for having offended my loving and good Lord by my sins and yet, brimming with joy and gratitude for the forgiveness I knew I had just received from Him.
As I left the great cathedral it was now dark outside and a gentle snow was falling. I saw each tiny snowflake with its ice crystals in all their whiteness reflecting the light of the street lamps. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And then I thought of all those who love God and turn to Him constantly in trust and faith to be forgiven and purified from their daily sins, when possible in sacramental confession and at other times responding in the moment with a spontaneous cry of “Lord forgive me” as the Holy Spirit shines His light of truth on something we just said or did, or did not say or did not do – where we fell short in love and mercy in that circumstance or situation. These blessed souls are like those snowflakes, clear as crystal and pristine white in their purity and reflect the glory of the Light of the Lord.
As I descended the steps of the great cathedral a wretched man wrapped in a ragged blanket approached me. Our eyes met and I loved him. I saw Jesus in him. I saw the Beggar of Heaven in the eyes of this poor, suffering man of the streets of London who lived in the shadow of the great Westminster Cathedral on a bed of cardboard under filthy rags.
When our Lord Jesus hung dying on the cross to pay the ransom for our sins – for all the sins for all time, for all of humanity’s sins, and for my own sins and your own sins – He cried out “I thirst.” He thirsts for our love. Jesus Christ was begging for our love – for my love, for your love. Jesus Christ is the Beggar of Heaven.
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took His tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.
So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled (that says): “They divided My garments among them, and for My vesture they cast lots.” This is what the soldiers did.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your Son.”
Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, “It is finished.” And bowing His head, He handed over His spirit.
Roger told me his whole life story as the snow fell gently on our shoulders. He had been abused as a child. As a teen-ager he fell in with a bad group of boys and he made many bad choices and got into many troubles. He paid the price that society’s justice demanded and spent time in jail. Then he determined to be good and lead a decent and honest life. For a while things were better. He found a job and got a place to live, and worked and fed himself. Then he lost his job and in time he was left with nothing. Now all he had in this world were the greasy rags on his back and the cardboard mat that he lays on at night in the frigid cold on the rock hard pavement of the great square under the looming shadow of the great Westminster Cathedral. I wept and hugged him hard. I told him I had nearly nothing to give him to help him that night. I pulled out what was left of my 20 pound note. I had bought a bottle of water with it earlier. I hadn’t finished drinking it. He would gratefully take my half drunken bottle of water. I gave it to him, recalling Jesus’ words on the Cross, “I thirst.” I had given ten pounds for the offering and this left me with about seven pounds which I needed to pay for a cab back to the hotel. I thought quickly and told Roger. “Roger, I can take the Tube! So let me give you 5 pounds and I can buy a one-way ticket back to my hotel on the Edgeware Road with the remaining two pounds!” But what real help is a five pound note who a man who has nothing at all in this world, I thought to myself. I was so sorry I had nothing more to give him. But indeed I did. I had Jesus. I would give Roger Jesus. I would give Roger to Jesus.
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6)
I asked Roger if I could pray for him. I asked him if he had faith. Roger told me he would like very much for me to pray for him and that he had a little faith. I assured him that faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain.
Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” ( Matthew 17:20)
So grasping Roger’s hands in the middle of the great square, we bowed our heads, and I prayed for Roger with all my heart and mind and soul that Jesus would give him a Christmas miracle and that 2011 would be a new start for Roger filled with every heavenly blessing. We kissed each other warmly on the cheeks a final farewell and “Godspeed” and in a last moment of connection, I reached into my purse and pulled out my little rosary bag and handed it to him saying. “Take this rosary, and hold onto it, and pray with it as you can… for the Lord will go with you and will never leave you. Trust in Him.” I turned toward Victoria Station where I would catch the underground train to the Edgware Road, and left Roger standing in the shadow of the great cathedral with the snow still falling all around him.
I entered the Tube station. I went over to the ticket kiosk to buy my one way ticket. I had underestimated the cost of the ticket. I did not have enough money to buy it. I was stranded at Victoria Station with no cell phone to call my family. Because I had stayed in the cathedral to do my penance of praying the rosary, and on account of my lengthy encounter with Roger, I had been much longer than expected. My family would be worried about me. I then began to consider the very long walk in the biting cold night air between Victoria Station and the Edgware Road where my hotel was located on the other side of the city of London! I was in trouble. But before there was enough time for anxiety to completely overwhelm me, the Lord came swiftly to my rescue. Still standing in front of the ticket kiosk, a stranger approached me and extended his hand and said, “Here, take this. I don’t need it anymore.” He handed me his daily Tube pass! He had bought it in the morning and used it all day and was now leaving the Tube station and would not be using it anymore that day or night. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, he must have seen me standing at the kiosk and decided that he would simply be nice and give it to a total stranger who could still use it until midnight! Incredible! The Lord is my provider! How much He loves His children and watches over us.
I hopped on the train heading to the Edgware Road and half way to my destination I had a strange feeling come over me. I suddenly remembered the diamond earring that I had placed in my little rosary case earlier in the day! Oh my Goodness! I had given the rosary bag to Roger in the square as we parted ways completely forgetting that inside the case was not only my rosary but my expensive diamond stud earring that my husband had given to me for our wedding anniversary! What was I to do?
The passengers all round me sensed that something was wrong with me. I could see it in their faces in their reflections in the train windows. I tried to collect myself and breathe deeply. The train continued to the next station and I tried to think. What should I do? How can I tell my husband how careless I was with his precious gift? How would he react? Would he be angry at me? Would he think it was a beautiful thing – a miracle – that this earring was “accidentally” gifted to Roger, the homeless man in the square, in my little rosary bag? Then I wondered what if Roger never noticed the earring in the bag? What if it would fall out? What if he threw the bag away? Maybe he would never know that the earring was in there? Maybe he would find it and try to sell the diamond and then be arrested, as who would believe that a homeless man hadn’t stolen it? Thoughts as fast as the passing images appearing in the train window raced through my mind.
I had to turn around and go back. At least I could tell Roger what happened. I could see how the conversation would go. Perhaps he would insist on returning the earring because he knew that it was not intended for him – that the earrings were a gift from my husband to me for our anniversary and that husbands can be very sensitive about such things. Or I could show him the earring was in the bag and insist that he keep it, but that I wanted him to know it was there so it did not get lost and he could profit from it. I even thought about ways that we could try to sell it so Roger could have the money to better his life. So many thoughts flooded my mind.
I used the “miracle” Tube pass to return to Victoria Station and ran to the square. All the homeless were now tucked into their grimy blankets and ragged bedrolls. I gathered my composure and walked slowly around the great square looking for Roger trying not to stare. I tried to be respectful as I could while looking the homeless over. I didn’t see Roger anywhere. A heavy set homeless woman was leaning against the wall in the square and I timidly approached her. I asked her, “Do you by any chance know Roger?” I explained that I had just met him and had given him something as a gift but that by accident I had left something else sentimental inside the bag. I didn’t tell her what it was in case it could cause trouble for him. Maybe someone would try to forcefully take it from him if they knew a diamond and gold earring was in the little bag. The homeless woman replied, “Yes, I know Roger. He got helped tonight and so he gets to sleep in the shelter! He had enough money to buy one night in the shelter and so he went there to get warm, have a shower, a hot meal and sleep in a warm bed tonight!”
I thanked the woman and walked back to Victoria Station accepting the will of God. I would genuinely be happy for Roger to have found the earring. If he is meant to have it, then God’s will be done. My husband surely would understand. I praised Jesus that tonight Roger would sleep in security and peace with his rosary at his bedside and hope in his heart. I trusted Jesus’ unfathomable love for Roger and that He would fully provide for him in answer to our prayers. Even with faith a small as a mustard seed Roger can expect miracles – mountains can be moved.
I made my way back to the hotel using for the third time my “miracle ticket”, and prepared myself to share this mysterious and wonderful story with my husband. I told him everything. He was not angry and he was gracious about the “misplaced” earring. He has a generous and caring heart too.
Later that night I organized my handbag for the morning. As I emptied the contents of my purse onto the hotel bed to my shock and utter amazement my diamond earring fell out of the handbag. I didn’t know whether to be grateful to the Lord to have found it, or disappointed in consideration of the loss to Roger. My husband and I had already joyfully accepted the “loss” from our hearts for sake of Roger.
It appears that it was indeed the will of the Lord that my husband’s anniversary gift remained with me. When I pulled my rosary out in the cathedral to pray my penance there, the earring must have caught in the chain and as I lifted the rosary up to pray it must have dropped back into my purse.
Nevertheless, the Lord provides for those who love and trust Him. Roger was in a shelter this night, and tomorrow, with his faith the size of a mustard seed, yet growing, the Beggar of Heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ would provide again for Roger and would remain with him always.