Thursday, December 18, 2008

"See the Face of Jesus in Each One"

Around Christmas just about every year, we see a lot of those people collecting for the Salvation Army in those red kettles outside of major stores, or in the "human interest" story on the news (likely staring and produced by "The B-Crew") they talk about some parish or congregation of some sort having their Christmas dinner for the poor, or perhaps even the Knights of Columbus raising money for their Christmas charity work. And sometimes we stop and put something in the kettle and get our warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

The big questions still remain: Do we have to wait for Christmas to do this? Is it really about that warm, fuzzy feeling you get inside?

Obviously I can't and don't assume that everybody ONLY gives to the poor during Christmas. There are many who are active volunteers with their St. Vincent DePaul Societies, food pantries, and soup kitchens, and do this on a weekly basis. Yet the need is still there; times are extremely tough right now and the need has actually gone up with more people losing jobs and homes in a bad economy, and the giving has went down. Having been impoverished for six months while looking for work, I know it goes. And those who are active in these charities, hat's off to you. Thank you for all the hard work you do. It's just that people who do this 24/7 are hard to come by.

One such person who DID do this 24/7 was a man named Lucious Newsom. He ran The Lord's Pantry on the near westside of Indianapolis from the late 1980s up until his death in August 2008. He was 92 when he passed away, but worked feeding the poor up until he went on to be with the Lord. He was an African American gentleman from Chattanooga, Tennesee. He was a retired Baptist minister who entered the Catholic Church at the age of about 77. He came up to Indianapolis during the Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Dinner to lend a hand, and afterwards asked "What do these people do the other 364 days of the year?" He decided to stick around and see what he could do to help.

He did this for over 20 years.

If you want a general synopsis of who this man was, watch this video from WISH-TV in Indianapolis, but that doesn't even remotely start to paint the picture of this saintly man. Everybody who worked with Lucious had stories about him. My favorite one is when my sister and I went down to help one Saturday morning, and NFL quarterback Jeff George was also helping. He said afterwards that Lucious had called him early one morning and told him where he could get neckbone and Jeff said "I don't eat neckbone. I eat Perdue chicken, and that's what I'm going to buy for your people." The times I saw Jeff down there, he was always wearing a big smile.

For the record, Jeff George is a stand-up guy all by himself, but being around Lucious brought out that much more of the best in everybody. Lucious just had that effect on people.

I had videotaped Lucious a couple of times when him and his family would do Gospel concerts to raise money for The Lord's Pantry, and also ran audio once for him at my old parish in Indiana. He was one of those kind of guys who did so much good in the community, and in the world, that you didn't mind helping, even if he didn't ask you. You just kind of stepped up and did it. I've hugged this man enough that should he ever become canonized, I'll be a 3rd class relic myself.

And always, BUT ALWAYS, did he remind us to "See the face of Jesus in each one we serve." The dignity of those he served was always paramount to Lucious and he refused to exploit them. He made sure news crews would only tape volunteers and not those being served. I even offered to produce a documentary about him, and all he told me was "No, thank you." For Lucious Newsom, it was never, ever about him. He was never bigger than the message.

Not every community has a Lucious Newsom. Every community has those in need. Get involved, and you too can "See the face of Jesus in each one you serve."

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