Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is God calling you to do?

"As far as I am concerned, the greatest suffering is to feel alone, unwanted, unloved. The greatest suffering is also having no one, forgetting what an intimate, truly human relationship is, not knowing what it means to be loved, not having a family or friends." - Mother Theresa

This past Saturday, we shared soup and conversation many brothers and sisters whom we are seeing on a regular basis. One such quiet gentleman, Andy, we have gotten to know a little through our lunch time. He recently lost his job as a line cook and has not been able to secure another one yet. Living at the missions means he has to use that as his address on job applications. Many businesses aren't willing to hire someone who doesn't even have a permanent address. It's unfortunate, but true. He mentioned that he was happy to have a vacation after working ten years without one, but is now getting a little antsy to start working again.

Because Andy loves to cook, he asked how to make the curried carrot chicken soup that we were serving. We talked as friends do about cooking tips and recipes, yet I couldn't help thinking after we left that we need to do something more to help our brother, Andy. A lot of homeless men and women are truly trying to gain employment and secure a permanent residence. What slows down the process for them is that they don't have an advocate. They are alone in their situation.
We pray for discernment in how to help him and others.

If you or I were to suddenly be without a job, get sick and incur medical debt and lose our home, we would most likely be taken in by family or friends in our faith community. Our family and communities are tremendous gifts from God created to help us along in life. Most reading this blog were born into a decent life. That doesn't mean we aren't sinners without problems. By God's grace alone have we been saved from some of our mistakes.

"Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too." Psalm 139

Personally, I've been picked up from the gutter of drugs after getting mixed up with the wrong crowd after high school. I moved far away from home and into a place full of what I now see as true evil. I was very close to death one night and my "friends" were along for the ride. Crying out to God, He saved me from the clutches of the enemy.

There was one friend - or angel, as I like to refer to him - that helped me to return home to my family. I thank God and pray for this friend continually, even though I have not seen him since. Little did I know at the time that my parents were praying the rosary every night for me. If it weren't for my family I would definitely have wound up living on the streets or worse. Prayers work miracles. Prayers bring God's power through His Son Jesus Christ to those in need. I was one of those in dire need and will never forget His saving power. Of course, I still covet that saving power every day!

"if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

God doesn't need us to accomplish His plans. To praise Him and acknowledge Him as our Savior and friend is a gift. Our prayers are the first step in working miracles in the lives of the poor and downtrodden. The second step comes when the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts to act somehow. Do we ask the Lord each morning to use us for His purpose? Do we pray for him to heal our blindness and deny ourselves so that others may have more?

A priest once told me, "God wants you to do what He wants YOU to do. No one else can do the mission God has planned for you." We may be the only one to help another brother or sister who is without family or friends. We may be the one whom God called to help someone back into a relationship with His Son.

What does God want you to do? Only in silence will we hear him calling.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your hearts, your minds and on your lips today and always.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

brothers and sisters in Christ

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him,“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.”But he said to them in reply,“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

"Jesus looked at the motley crew of disciples and called them His "mother and brothers." He accepted them as family. He said His brother, sister, and mother is whoever does God's will (Mk 3:35). Although at this point the apostles were not totally doing God's will, Jesus accepted them as family to change them into disciples who would do God's will." - excerpt from One Bread, One Body daily Bible meditations

Would you let your brother or sister dig through trash cans for food? Would you stand by idly and watch them scrounge around in haste, trying all the while to remain inconspicuous? Since we are "all made in the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:26-27), then to watch someone dig in the garbage for food is to watch Christ dig in the garbage. Is this how we treat Christ in the poor?

Last week while I was in Washington DC for the annual March for Life, I saw some people digging through the trash for food. The sight was heart-wrenching. I am thankful that God allowed me to help.

Rising early on Friday morning, I sat out in the hallway of my hotel (because of roommates sleeping) to read the Bible and pray that Jesus would open my eyes to see what He wanted me to see that day. I knew when I was planning my trip to DC that God had more plans for me than to just make my voice heard for the unborn - though doing that and seeing the witness of many is powerful and much needed.

Each task we set out to holds more than the mission at hand...
During our parish mission, Catholic Lay Evangelist, John Schweisthal said to us that each trip to the store, library or wherever is an opportunity evangelize the love of Christ. Buying groceries or picking up books is only secondary to sharing the love of Christ. So, I knew that being in the "big city" would provide many opportunities if I allowed myself to look through Christ's eyes.

God doesn't take long to ask... My friends and I set out for Union Station to get subway passes. If you haven't been to Union Station, it's the hub for all the trains - like a giant airport with shops and restaurants. We decided to scope out the scene and get our passes first, then eat breakfast in one of the restaurants there.

As we rode down the escalator to buy our passes, I noticed a ruffled young man riding up the other side. He got to the top, then rode down and walked toward the exit to scrounge through the trash. Finding a half empty juice bottle, he picked it up and drank it. I knew at that moment that I was going to ask him to breakfast. I couldn't bear to watch my hungry brother wander aimlessly looking for people's leftovers.

As God would have it, he came back our way and got on the up escalator right in front of us.
I tapped his shoulder and asked if I could buy him breakfast. From under his hat, he peered at me and said yes. I introduced myself and asked his name. William.

We chatted some and then went into the Au Bon Pain. I told William he could pick out anything he wanted. He said just coffee, but I said are you sure? I knew he was uncomfortable. You can get a sandwich and soup or whatever you like, I said. He liked the sound of that. So I motioned to the area of the soup but he said, no, you come with me. I asked if it was because the staff would follow him or kick him out and he mumbled yes. Welcome to the world of the homeless.

There were many eyes following us around the restaurant. I paid for his breakfast but he didn't want to stick around and eat with us. About 15 minutes later, he walked back by and turned ever so slightly to look back at me. I waved and smiled and caught a guarded grin from him.

A few minutes later, another man stuck his head in the restaurant and started asking around for breakfast at McDonald's. Everyone was just ignoring him like he was a pesky fly buzzing around! I know we have to be careful helping the poor, but that doesn't mean pretending they don't exist. So, this man - Charles - was also treated to breakfast.

I don't say this to draw attention to myself but to draw attention to how many opportunities God gives us to help if we abandon ourselves to Him. I'm sure I could go back to Union Station tomorrow and they would be there wandering around trying to stay warm or panhandle for a few bucks for food or booze. I didn't change their life situation, but they changed me.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your hearts, your minds and on your lips today and always.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cold hands - Warm hearts

Walking into the GR Public Library, I asked the man at the information desk if he could make an announcement that some friends from our church had hot soup and sandwiches for anyone in need. I said a silent prayer as I waited for the manager's approval. Yes! The announcement was made followed by a stream of thankful brothers and sisters leaving the shelter of warmth to endure the cold air for a few moments.

The library worker came down the steps to make sure we told the people that they had to eat the soup outside. My gratitude collided with slight irritation.

"Lord, help me to love from the depth of my heart when others don't understand." The guy was just doing his job. After all, they did make the announcement, right?
Who among us has not been less than compassionate to the needs of those cast aside by much of society?

Just about two months before we began this mission, I stepped out of our car in St. Andrew's parking lot with my parents and daughter only to see a lady coming towards us asking for help. There were other people milling around Division also. It was dark, and I was thinking of the safety of my daughter and focused on getting inside for Mass. The lady kept calling to me, so I turned and told her I couldn't help right now because I was going to church.

BAM! The Holy Spirit convicted me as I walked away. Oh sorry lady, I can't help you because I'm going to see Jesus! All I could think of was PHARISEE! HYPOCRITE!

Jesus was calling to me right there on the street, yet I was blind. Blinded by selfishness or fear at the same time I was seeking to receive the pure love of Jesus in the Eucharist. How could this be? Our family has spent month after month at God's Kitchen making meals for people such as this woman.

Certainly, I am supposed to be cautious and take care of my children first. Yet I could have acknowledged the woman and asked her to follow us up to the church. Jesus was calling me right there on the street. "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25

If we are open, God will "heal our blindness" through times like this...

As I entered the cathedral, I knelt and prayed for forgiveness,asking the Lord for another chance. Only HE can take our wrongs and use them for His glory.

Weeks passed, and I put the incident away in my mind. Little did I know that I would soon be waking up in the middle of the night yearning to go outside on the streets to meet my hungry, lonely and cold brothers and sisters. Looking back, I now see.
So many others, too, have heard and acted on the Lord's call. There are countless kind-hearted individuals that share the Lord's compassion to make our world a better place each day.

Each day it is important that we pray and encourage our children in prayer to "put on the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2) so that our hearts may be open to those in need. For children, it begins in small ways like helping a classmate with a task or opening a door for an elderly person.
For us, it can be sharing a smile with everyone we see. Introduce ourselves to someone we don't yet know at church or school each week. The opportunities are endless. God will open the doors.

Speaker and author, Matthew Kelly, encourages people to ask themselves and their children this question each day - "How did God speak to you in your life today?" This prepares our minds to listen to God for direction instead of listening the world.

The words to a much-loved song keep echoing in my mind - "We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone. We are one body, one body in Christ, and He came that we might have love."
He came that each one of us might have His love.
He came for each one of us to share that love with other people, not things.
People are meant to be loved and things are meant to be used NOT the other way around.

Among the friends we have met...

Please pray for Amy who recently lost her job due to medical leave. She lives in an apartment downtown and is looking for administrative work.

Pray for those with mental disabilities that the world would have compassion and they have stable housing and be well-cared for.

Pray for the veterans who have heroically served our country but are now lost in the shuffle of the streets that they may be given their benefits and be lovingly cared for in their old-age.

Continue to pray for the married couple, Annette and Karl, who are capable of paying monthly rent, but are having trouble negotiating a do-able deposit for an apartment. The spend nights in separate shelters. Pray that they turn to Jesus and trust Him for their needs.

Pray for those who are estranged from their families and find themselves without homes that forgiveness an reconciliation may enter into their hearts and the hearts of their loved ones.

While we can't do everything, we can all do something.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Through The Eyes Of LOVE...

What keeps us from reaching out to the poor?

There are many different answers to this question, but most times it is fear.

Fear of the unknown... fear for our safety...
What will they do? What have they done? What will they ask of me?
What will I say? What can I really do to change their situation? I'm just one person and their needs are so many.

These are hefty questions to ponder if we start from fear.

In fear we can do nothing because fear is not from the Lord.

Yet if we start from love - love of Christ - the possibilities are endless.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..." (1John 4:18)

Acting in LOVE will have us stepping outside of our comfort zones and doing things we never thought possible in our rational mind.

LOVE will have us walking by faith and not by sight because the sight of things may look pretty grim.

LOVE will have us moving in the Spirit to show others we care regardless of where they are in their lives or where they have been.

LOVE will find us forgetting self and remembering others first.

LOVE will have us standing outside in a park in the blowing snow and freezing wind when we could be home sitting in front of the fire reading a good book.

LOVE will have us taking our valuable time to make soup or sandwiches and cookies for people we don't even know.

LOVE will have us donating our hard-earned money for food to serve to someone who may be addicted to drugs or alcohol or someone who may have been in prison at one time. This someone's present or past doesn't change the fact that Jesus loves them so very much, and that they need to see this in our interaction with them.

Rational? No way. Supernatural? You bet.

So many people have stepped out in LOVE for this ministry on the streets - stepped out from where they are to do seemingly small things with great compassion.

In Christ, you are making a difference - a difference in the lives of those who are often forgotten because of their state in life - a friendly older gentleman living alone in an apartment barely getting by on disability pay, a kind-eyed gentleman living under a bridge, a legally blind woman with the most beautiful smile who will soon be out of the mission and into her own apartment, a young man living in the misson who recently started college classes.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in our heart, our mind and on our lips today and always. Amen!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Smiles, Soup and Service

Happy New Year!

That was the friendly greeting shared by our brothers and sisters downtown as they walked into the parking lot at St. Andrew's to see what we were serving this past Saturday.

God served up a sunny, but very cold day for us all on South Division. Good thing the weather isn't a factor for serving Christ!Our friends downtown need food and warm smiles and conversation no matter what the temperature is.

Nine of us drove down to GR this past weekend, which allowed more opportunities to converse. Many stories will go untold, but here are a couple.

After talking over hot cocoa, one gentleman, Thomas, asked me why I was doing this. I told him I am compelled because he's my brother in need, and I care about him.

He then said, "how do you know I'm your brother? What if I haven't accepted Christ as my Savior?"he asked.

"Whether you have or you haven't doesn't change the fact that we are brother and sister because God is OUR Father. So, I live like you are my brother because that is my belief. My actions don't depend on what you believe," I said back.

He shook my hand and said, "that's right! Thank you." We agreed to pray for each other.
He will be losing his current housing in two weeks, but is trusting the Lord.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I haven't and don't always treat those around me with the love of Christ. As a sinner, I fall way short. Just ask anyone in my family!

There is a freedom, though, that comes with faith - faith that God is the Loving Father of all and that Jesus Christ came for ALL, not just those who accepted Him. "But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

This faith compels us to act. Just as the young boy with a meager amount of bread and fish knew it was right for him to share with the other hungry people, we also know it is right. The hunger in our world goes far beyond the physical hunger, though there are millions outside this country dying every day due to starvation.

The boy with the loaves and fishes didn't know what Jesus would do with his offering. We don't fully know what Jesus will do either, but He will do something "far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us." (Ephesians 3:20)

I also met a married couple this weekend who didn't fit the typical homeless picture. In fact, if you or I saw them walking down the street, we wouldn't suspect they were homeless or jobless, living in separate shelters and unable to find work with their various professional skills.

A, 53, has epilepsy, which contributed to her losing a job. Soon after, she lost her apartment. She has a regular volunteer job, which she enjoys and helps keep her skills fresh.

K lost his job in manufacturing and is staying at a men's shelter on Division. Imagine not being able to spend private time with your spouse except at the library or walking outside! They both said they do the "heartside shuffle" every day, which is a routine of going from here to there for meals and a place to stay warm.

They could get into a HUD apartment if they wanted to get help from the government beyond their SS (welfare, etc...), but they both want to try as best they can not to take that route.

Please pray for them to be accepted into the right apartment soon.

Pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance for us all to stay humble and move according to the His plan.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in our hearts, our minds and on our lips today and always. Amen!