“When I was hungry…”
When I was growing up in Russia, my father was a diplomat. One time he and my mother gave a big, fancy tea party at our home for several hundred ambassadors and dignitaries. We were in the middle of having formal tea, with everyone using nice china and so forth. I was about nine years old at the time, and I was allowed to be there, all dressed up and carrying little cakes and being polite. Suddenly, the butler opened the door and announced to my father, “Christ is at the door.” Well, the French ambassador’s wife dropped her expensive tea cup on the rug. She was not used to such interruptions!
Father excused himself, mother excused herself and off they went. And whom did they welcome? A hobo who had come to the door begging. And what did they do? My mother and father served him themselves, even though we had fourteen servants in the house. My mother laid out the best linen, the most expensive silver and our best china and so forth, and she served a hobo. My father did likewise. I saw all of this and I wanted to serve the hobo too, but Mother said, “Oh no. You were not obedient last week; you cannot serve Christ unless you are obedient.” So, in my little mind, to serve the poor was a great honor and a great joy.
Now that’s Christianity. You don’t have to have catechism lessons when you see that sort of thing. That was how my parents treated the poor, so that was what my brother and I learned from growing up in that kind of household, thanks be to God.
Of course, I was like any other kid too. I would say, “Well, do we live in a monastery or something like that?” My parents would say, “No. We live in a family, of which Christ is the head.” So, in the end, it all seemed quite natural to me to serve the poor. Christ was in the poor and we must serve him.