March 04, 2009


Yesterday morning, I stopped in at one of my neighborhood convenience store/gas stations to fill up with gas and to use their cash machine inside to deposit a check. I was done filling up outside and I was at the ATM inside depositing the check.

I heard one of the clerks at the register saying “Ma’am” then again two more times “Ma’am, Ma’am”. I kept looking over wondering if she was trying to get my attention. She was not looking at me so I went back to my business.

Then, she suddenly got on the intercom that you hear out at the pumps and said “Ma’am, I want you to come back in here and pay for those two sandwiches you have under your coat”

I looked outside and the woman in a blue car that looked like it was wired together, very obviously had pulled her coat closed over a bulging area near her chest that she was holding close to her. At the sound of the clerk over the intercom, her face contorted into a mixture of: embarrassment, shame, fear and pain all at once.

She got in her car and sped off.

The clerks busied themselves calling the police and pulling up the in-store and pump video records.

I left the store, got in my car and went to work.

I could not, I can not, get that woman’s face out of my mind. I was right next to a desperate person and did not even know it. I was using the gas pump right next to her and I could not tell, as I went about my life, that she was in trouble. I was thinking of the Gospel from the other day:”When did we see you hungry, Lord?”. How many times are we next to people in dire straits and we don’t even know it? We are too busy and they are busy hiding.

The woman was a thief. Yes, I know that and I’m not condoning her actions. However, I can’t help but wonder:

Where those sandwiches for her family?
Where those sandwiches for her? Were they her breakfast and lunch?
Did she use all the money she had to fill up her car to get to her job but then she had nothing left over for food?

I offered a Divine Mercy Chaplet for her on my way to work. It was all I could do.

Friends: Times are tough. Many are barely getting by and are going without in order to survive. I wonder how many parents these days are skimping on their own meals so their children can eat? Jobs are scarce. Layoffs are everywhere.

A co-worker and I who both commute nearly an hour to work have noticed that in the last two months our commutes have been cut by nearly 10 minutes each way. I’m convinced it’s because: people are either using mass transit more often if they can, or they are carpooling, or there are fewer people on the road because so many just don’t even have a job to go to.

Justice, yes, but, compassion, too. What would I do if was desperate? What wouldn’t I do?

During Lent, we are encouraged to give alms. Often, we interpret that to mean money to charitable organizations that serve the less fortunate. Certainly, money is needed, but if you are in a position to donate food to a food shelf this is a great time to do that. Food shelves will often take monetary donations so they can buy the food for their clients.

There is a list of Twin City food shelves here

Many local grocery stores accept food shelf donations in the store. Check with your grocer.

Many Catholic parishes also have food shelf collections. Check with your parish office.


Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Such stories really wke me up from my self-absorbed concentration on stupid stuff. It breaks my heart. Thanks for waking me up.

Your story also made me realize that if I'm ever in that situation I maybe could pay for what was stolen and then she wouldn't get in trouble. Maybe I'm naive.

You are correct about the commute - it has been reported on the news.

March 04, 2009 6:48 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ter: I didn't even think of offering to cover her items. I'll remember that next time.

March 04, 2009 8:55 PM  
Blogger Paul Anthony Melanson said...

St Francis' deeper conversion in love of neighbour occurred when he met a leper on the road. He was totally disgusted at the sight and smell of lepers until that day when he was given the grace to overcome himself, to get off his horse, give the leper a coin and a kiss. At that point, he tells us in his Testament, "what was bitter was changed to sweetness" and this reverent service to lepers and other outcasts marked the rest of his life, for he truly saw Christ in them. In our own day we continue to learn from his example not to serve others with a condescending attitude but with a sense of smallness and brotherhood in Christ.

I have a photo of my father which was taken just after he left Korea in 1953. In this photo, he is holding the arm of a little Japanese girl who had leprosy. She is obviously excited and the smile on her face really says it all.

St. Francis said that we should "preach always, use words of necessary." Unless we learn how to love, we will never convert a hurting and broken world. Why was my father unafraid of spending time in a leper colony? Because, as the Scripture tells us, "perfect love casts out all fear."

Too many people in our broken world are afraid of so many things. But fear doesn't lead to freedom. It leads to a kind of slavery. This is why Pope John Paul II exhorted us to "Be not afraid" so often.

When we see a brother or sister in need and we respond to their need, we overcome this fear. And we find our own salvation. For the measure we use for others will be meted back to us. If we have been bgenerous to others, God will richly bless us. If we have been selfish toward others, the same will be meted back to us.

God love you all!

March 05, 2009 6:00 PM  
Blogger ignorant redneck said...

Our Parish has the most active outreach of any parish I have belonged to. And we got problems. The need for services has increased in an ever steepening curve over the last year, and we are taxed to the max in what we can do. At the same time the donations to the poor box have decreased.

And, in an unexpected yet purely practical matter, our source for paper grocery bags has dried up. We used to get them donated to the food pantry, but now we don't. And they are actually exspensive to buy. makes it hard to distribute food.

things are getting harder for everyone, even charities,

March 05, 2009 7:42 PM  
Blogger The Ironic Catholic said...

This is a great post. I will pray for her as well. Thank you.

March 05, 2009 8:15 PM  
Blogger Tom in Vegas said...

"Justice, yes, but, compassion, too."

The above quote is an extremely important reminder to those who apply the law. Yes, God is infinite justice, but the justice that fits the crime may be compassion itself.

It's in compassion where I see Christ. Not in revenge or retribution.

March 07, 2009 8:30 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

When fasting on Ash Wednesday--I was miserable--even with one meal to eat. It really made me know how blessed to be able to have food so easily accessable--it made me realize, however, people were hungry--not just one day--but every day. I feel so sad that she was so hungry--and will pray for her.

March 08, 2009 10:54 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

Bless your heart but remember many a shoplifter has money in their pockets. It's a compulsion.

March 09, 2009 7:59 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

sad to thinkthat she may have been stealing because she, or her family, was hungry.

March 09, 2009 10:48 AM  
Blogger ukok said...

This is so sad, but i thank you for giving me the opportunity to pray for this woman and her family. God Bless you Cathy.

March 10, 2009 5:36 PM  
Blogger Georgette said...

From my limited understanding of moral theology, the woman had the right to the food, since she was obviously starving. Think of "Les Miserables". My first thought, though, was for a good Christian bystander to pay for what she took, so the store workers would calm down from their tizzy fit. It's hard to think clearly and fast when stuff comes at you so quick, though.


March 11, 2009 5:53 AM  

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