Female voice: “No, thank you.”
Male voice: [Muffled words I could not understand]...
Female voice: “I should not...no. Please, you also need to stay warm!”
Male voice: [More muffled words that were unclear]...
Female voice [sniffling]: “Thank you. Our Good Lord must have sent you to bring warmth to my heart, soul, and body. God bless you!”
I overheard this conversation through the closed doors of the adoration chapel, where just a few minutes before I had been praying alongside this man and woman quietly.
This encounter happened during one of the worst storms we have had in that area and right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of all the restrictions, not many people went to pray at our parish’s adoration chapel. That was why I was there, and it was also why I knew who the two people were who had been talking on the other side of the chapel door. We were all getting ready to leave. I was the one who had to stay behind to make sure the place was locked for the night.
I did not know the woman. I had only seen her a couple of times. It was clear, however, that she had been under duress for a while. Her clothes were ragged and hung loosely from her frail frame. She had been crying intermittently during our time there, and when she finally got up to leave the chapel, she swayed a little.
The man was Don José, a regular parishioner and an assiduous adorer of our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. Don José was often misunderstood. As a parishioner once succinctly described it to me, “he just does not look like he belongs here.” What the person meant by that was that Don José looked unkempt and could be cantankerous at times. And yet, there we were on that cold night: the lady was getting Don José's jacket; Don José was getting ever closer to our Blessed Lord; and I was getting edified and convicted by his actions all at once.
The lady and Don José left right after their brief interaction. As I walked to my car, warmly wrapped in my nice jacket yet somehow feeling colder than before, I remembered Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew: “[For I was] naked, and you clothed me” (25:36). I had missed my chance! I had been so entranced by my own prayers that I failed to see the lady and to act as the Lord had commanded us to do.
As I kept reflecting on the interaction I had witnessed, what stood out to me was not only Don José's physical act of taking his jacket off and giving it to the lady, but also the way in which he had “clothed” the lady—who looked dejected, alone, and forgotten—with his warm, compassionate care.
Don José's actions made me think of another passage, this time from the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37). Like the injured man in the parable of the good Samaritan, the lady lacked proper clothing, “looked beaten” and abandoned, and came across as “half-dead.” Don José—like the good Samaritan—saw the lady, was filled with compassion, stopped, and took concrete action to help her.
The following day and every day after, I would see Don José praying before the Blessed Sacrament, and I would feel compelled to do as he did. In other words, his interaction with the lady gifted me with a method, a rhythm, if you will.
Now, with this new rhythm, I go to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and then I go out and see the naked, which includes not only those without clothing, but also those without friends, family, or meaningful human relationships. Then, I allow my heart to be filled with compassion, and I stop to converse with them. Invariably, our conversation ends up giving me the opportunity to do something concrete to help them. And finally, I go back to the adoration chapel to “report back” to my Lord what I did and to take further commands from him. My ultimate hope is to give the naked the same warm gift of compassion and charitable love that Don José gave to the lady that night.
Unfortunately, I never saw that lady again. Soon after the situation arose, I moved away from that parish; and soon after that, Don José passed away. Before I left, however, I had a chance to talk to Don José about his interaction with the lady, and I asked him what had compelled him to give her his jacket on that cold night. At first, Don José looked puzzled and mildly embarrassed. Then, he told me, “How could I go to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and then ignore what he said we must do?” Then he smiled at me, and, with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “... for I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt. 25:36), ... remember?