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October 1975

For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to me. (Mt 25:36).

A prison warden wrote to me quoting the words of Jesus: "I was in prison and you came to see me". He could not think of any better way of looking at his difficult job.

A doctor told me about the widely felt and widely discussed need to take a new look at the whole field of relationships between doctors and patients, and between patients and the rest of society. The most straightforward, up-to-date and complete answer he could give was drawn from the words of Jesus: "I was sick and you visited me".

A friend told me about his "search for God". Someone had told him that he would find Jesus wherever there was someone who needed him., if he brought help, he would discover Jesus. He had taken the advice and, in fact, found Jesus and believed in him.

The fact is that Jesus is there in anyone who needs us, whether we are aware of him or not. He deals out a hammer-blow to our consciences with these magnificent words. They are magnificent and, at the same time, terrible: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me..." But they are terrible in their negative aspect, for Jesus says: You gave me no food, you gave me no drink, no clothes, no home, no help or cure or affection, and no friendship when I, Jesus, was hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, ill, alone, pushed aside.

It is awful to realise that these are the words that Jesus will use to address us when our life comes to an end: he will not recognise us if we have not recognised him in any man who needed help.

These words revolutionise our normal way of thinking. Nobody could deny that the needy person is inferior to the person in a position to help. But if Jesus puts himself in the place of the person in need, he restores the balance and gives back the needy person his dignity. The situation is reversed and is the basis of a continual revolution. Now the sick person is more important than the doctor, the pupil more important than the teacher, the person helped more important than the helper. In any kind of society these words will be an impetus, a leaven and a charging force to the point when under-privileged people of any kind will be placed at the centre and everyone will work for them. Maybe a city without a prison is still a dream, because in a misbegotten society some people are bound to make mistakes. Perhaps the prisons are the best place to measure our ability to love-or hate-each other, for they are places which present the most difficulties for those who are free and wish to help those deprived of their freedom.

We must continually use these words as the yardstick for our lives. They remind us, first of all, of those people deprived of their most basic needs-food, a place to live, freedom-and there are still plenty of these people about despite the technological progress of society. The radio, T.V. and press bring people together from opposite corners of the earth-the poorest next to the richest, like Lazarus at the gate of rich Epulus' house. The news we receive from all over the world continually reminds us that even today Jesus is hungry in two-thirds of the world, that he is dying of thirst in the Sahel desert, that he is a stranger in millions and millions of refugees and emigrants, and that he is homeless in areas stricken by floods, and in all the slums, "mocambos" and "favelas" which, whatever you call them, are not homes.

In too many places he is in agony without a hospital to go to, without treatment, or social security, and he is deprived of his freedom in prisons, concentration camps and labour camps.

We must create a space for these people in our lives. It is not important how we do it, but we must each do something. It may be a personal act or directed towards a group of people., on our own initiative or with others at a political level: the choice is left to each person, but if each person kept in mind that it is Jesus who is waiting for our help, things would change very quickly.

I am not speaking only about people in the extreme conditions outlined above., many others may need our help. Illiterate people need instruction, there are always people who weep and who suffer, there are old people, dying people, people who lack a direction in life, who need friends or advice. In all these situations the words of Jesus are simple: everything we do to a man we do to him.

These words can bring light to our jobs. Whatever we do, its true meaning is as a service for others, as an answer to their needs. In providing food, for instance, there are those who work in farming, those who work in the food industry, those who transport it, cook it, or lay the table ... all these jobs can be done in any number of ways, but the correct way is to transform them daily into an act of love for other people in whom Jesus is hidden. Our love for him in this case can be shown through honesty, responsibility, dedication and an ability to invent and make things better.

The whole of our lives would change if we were to continually look around and realise that everyone we see in need is to be helped as if he were Jesus. And we would find salvation, not only for the next life but also for this life where too many people's lives drag on aimlessly without meaning., they have eyes that do not see and ears which do not hear.



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