I think that smell is very important to who we are. Some people smell of soap, some of shampoo, some of perfume and we say that they smell nice. Others smell of sweat, of work, of filth, and we prefer to keep them at a distance.
Our charism in the Missionary Servants of the Poor, is to care for very needy people. Often those who come to us for help are simple people from the mountains with very few economic resources who live at a subsistence level. They live in places with no running water, no well or spring, and the cold can be intense. In their adobe huts with dirt floors they cook, heat with wood, and stable their small animals such as guinea pigs and hens. So one can imagine the smell that sometimes pervades the places where they meet like the soup kitchens, classrooms, chapels, etc.
I remember a Mass in our chapel right after I had joined the Missionary Servants of the Poor. Seated in front of us was a Quechua-speaking woman with her traditional braids and her various petticoats and sweaters of an indeterminate color. But the first thing one noticed about her was the smell. A smell of cooking, of guinea pigs, of sweat, of urine, etc. Anyone who could remain next to her for five minutes would be in the Guinness Book of World Records.
And before I realized it, this prayer sprang from my heart, “Lord, make me love the smell of the poor.” If I was going to have to spend the rest of my life with these people, I had to love them first, love them as they are and not as I wish they were. That day I was given this divine gift.
To love the smell of poverty; physical poverty, sensible and touchable, but also the smell of spiritual and moral poverty which is more hidden, less notable.
To love with simplicity, with sweetness, and affection. This is the love that God has for us. He approaches our filthiness with tenderness because He sees us and knows our poverty. His Mercy fell in love with our misery and He wants to teach us the way of moral and spiritual purity.
Let us have His eyes of mercy for those who approach us because the more they smell, materially or spiritually, the more they need us. We learn from Him to be merciful.