“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Mt 25:35).

Several years ago I was pastor of two small churches in central Vermont. I was getting ready to go to the church for the 3 p.m. confessions when I saw a man struggling on a bicycle coming up the sidewalk.  It was mid-winter. I had a dreadful feeling that he was coming to the rectory.

He did.

He arrived ill-suited for the cold. His pant legs and socks were frozen from the slush that had clung to them. He had a backpack and some kind of jacket and a Rip van Winkle scraggly beard.  He must have been in his sixties, though it was hard to tell. He needed a place to stay and food.  I told him I couldn’t help him immediately, but I could help him after Mass if he wanted to wait in the parish hall beneath the church. I took him to the church and got him something hot to drink and a snack. I thought he might get bored and leave. He didn’t.

After Mass we went back to the rectory. In this little town there were no social services other than the church, which was always problematic for me with these types of “drop-ins.” He had been hitchhiking with his bike and somebody had picked him up and dropped him off in our town. His greatest need at the moment was for dry clothes and food. I did his laundry because he was shivering in those wet clothes.

I offered him whatever food was in my fridge and cupboard, but he insisted he wanted chicken soup. I told him I didn’t have any chicken soup. He really wanted Campbell’s chicken soup. I didn’t have any Campbell’s chicken soup either. However, I ended up driving to the neighboring town in order to buy him chicken soup.

We ate together at the kitchen table. He slurped loudly every spoonful of the soup and dripped copious amounts of it down his beard. While some of our conversation was rational, he mostly kept repeating to himself a phrase that haunts me even to this day: “God takes care of the poor.  God takes care of the poor.”

I don’t remember what else we ate seated at my tiny kitchen table on that winter evening after Mass, but I do remember pondering: Is this Jesus in this distressing disguise as the hungry one? As the thirsty one? Is this Jesus who once appeared disguised as a beggar to St. Martin and to St. Faustina who then revealed Himself to them? Will this man suddenly change before my eyes into Jesus? He didn’t.

The next day he left. He wanted to go out west. So I drove him 30 minutes to the bus station, bought him a one-way ticket and put him on a Greyhound. We waved goodbye as the bus pulled out of the station.

I have no idea whatever became of him. I only know this: God takes care of the poor.

—Father Lance Harlow is pastor of Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury.

—Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.