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Dec 12, 2023 1199 Sean Booth, UK
Encounter

A Million-Dollar Smile

On a scorching afternoon on the streets of Calcutta, I met a boy…

Prayer is an undeniable, central, and key part of every Christian’s life. However, Jesus emphasized two more things which clearly went hand in hand with prayer—fasting and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-21). During the seasons of Lent and Advent, we are specifically called to commit more time and effort to all three ascetic practices. ‘More’ is the important word. Whatever season we are in, radical self-denial and giving are a continuous call for each baptized believer. Around eight years ago, God literally made me stop and think about it. 

Unexpected Meeting

In 2015, I had the great privilege and blessing of fulfilling a lifelong dream to be with and serve some of the most in-need brothers and sisters worldwide in Calcutta, India, where the poor are described not only as poor but the ‘poorest of the poor.’ From the moment I landed, it was as though electricity was running through my veins. I felt such immense gratitude and love in my heart to be given this amazing opportunity to serve God with Saint Mother Teresa’s religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. The days were long but absolutely action-packed and grace-filled. Whilst I was there, I did not intend to waste a moment. After a 5 AM start to each day with an hour of prayer, followed by Holy Mass and breakfast, we set off to serve at a home for the sick, destitute, and dying adults. During the break at lunchtime, after a light meal, many of the religious brothers I was staying with took a siesta to recharge their batteries, to be ready to go again in the afternoon and on into the evening. 

One day, instead of having a rest in the house, I decided to go for a walk to find a local internet café, to contact my family by email. As I turned one of the corners, I encountered a young boy aged around seven or eight years old. His face expressed a mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, hurt, and tiredness. Life had already seemed to have begun to take its toll on him. He was carrying over his shoulder the biggest transparent, heavy-duty plastic bag that I had seen in my life. It contained plastic bottles and other plastic items, and it was full. 

My heart broke within me as we stood silently examining one another. My thoughts then went to what I could give this young boy. My heart sank, as I reached for my pocket, realizing that I only had a small amount of change with me to use for the internet. It added up to less than one pound in English money. As I gave it to him, looking him in the eye, his whole being seemed to change. He was so lifted and grateful, as his beautiful smile lit up his beautiful face. We shook hands, and he walked on. As I remained standing in that back street of Calcutta, I stood in awe as I knew that the Almighty God had just personally taught me such a powerful life-changing lesson through this encounter.

Reaping Blessings

I felt God had beautifully taught me in that moment that it is not the actual gift that is important but the disposition, intention, and love from the heart with which a gift is given. Saint Mother Teresa beautifully summed this up saying, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Indeed, Saint Paul said, if we give away all we have “but have not love,” we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Jesus describes the beauty of giving, that when we “give… it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38). Saint Paul also reminds us that “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). We do not give in order to receive, but God in His infinite wisdom and goodness blesses us personally in this life and also in the next when we step out in love (John 4:34-38). As Jesus taught us, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

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Sean Booth

Sean Booth is a member of the Lay Missionaries of Charity and Men of St. Joseph. He is from Manchester, England, currently pursuing a degree in Divinity at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham.

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