What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

The first homeless man I truly met was Tony.

It was cold and we were all bundled up, but I made a concentrated effort to not mention the coldness.  I had only been outside for a few moments and this man had no home to seek refuge in against the frigid weather.  My perspective of the cold was altered in the presence of a man who stood before me after successive days on the streets.

Tony was tall and kind.  In situations where he easily could have been bitter, he chose to not be.  I was with a group of pro-life university students and he never once made me feel privileged or self-indulged.  One Saturday, a student bought Tony a coffee and I watched him graciously accept it, even as his cold hands shakily caused the coffee to spill on his fingers.  My face was etched with the concern and sadness I felt as I watched the scene unfold, but Tony sought to comfort me in this situation.  He told me to not be sad because even in his difficult situation he was still happy.  That momentary exchange made such a significant impression on me.

In a couple of hours, I would return to my dorm room after a filling breakfast and Tony didn’t attempt to guilt me for the luxuries I had in life.  Rather, he came to the cold streets of Pittsburgh to spend time with us.  He accepted money or coffees when offered, but he said he didn’t like to look homeless.  We wouldn’t see him pushing a cart around or laden down with luggage.  Dressed in the warm clothes appropriate for the cold, he didn’t want to accept extra things that he would have to carry with him during the day.

Tony was the first human face I saw of homeless in a personal way.  I heard him talk about how fearful he had been early one morning when the intense cold made it difficult for him to get out of the chair in an abandoned house that he had accidentally fallen asleep in.  The reality of not being able to move for a couple of hours shook him as he faced the reality that he might die alone in the cold someday.  Yet he was also very happy and enjoyed being around a bunch of young college students.  He wasn’t near us because we always gave him things or because we were popular in the area.  Tony enjoyed being with us and some of the students became his friends. Continue reading “What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need”

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Snow and Humanity

Snow and Humanity

I love what snow does to humanity.

Granted, I am not a fan of driving in snow, but I get a strange exhilaration from the experience.  In the midst of snow or after a heavy snowfall, I find myself willing humanity to work together.  Even though difficulties can sometimes bring out the worst in us, it can also bring out the best in us.  Last night, I encountered people driving cautiously and courteously.  People were more patient as their fellow drivers struggled to stop at lights or took a couple extra seconds to gain traction.

The snow forces me to be concerned about the other, even if for nothing other than my own self-preservation.  I am particularly aware of how far their vehicle is from mine or what I can do to make their commute home a little easier.  Instead of only being concerned if I get through the light, I am instead considering what will be best for those with whom I share the road.  It is good for humanity to experience the gift of working with each other for the good of all. Continue reading “Snow and Humanity”

An Encounter of Love

An Encounter of Love

October is known as “Respect Life month” in the Church, but it is important to not reduce this to merely life in the womb.  Pro-lifers are sometimes accused of being only pro-babies and at times that accusation rings a little too true.  Babies, you see, are easy to love.  They are adorable, helpless, and are fun to shower with affection.

Yet while babies are a delight to love, it is the other people I struggle to love.  To be pro-life, though, means to be for the lives of every person, regardless of their personal appeal or state in life.  Such a worldview is one that is hard to cultivate.  However, if we claim to be pro-life we must work to achieve that broadness of heart.

When I was in college, I had multiple encounters with a living pro-life saint, Msgr. Reilly from Brooklyn, NY.  Few can rival his dedication to the pro-life movement.  He stands for hours outside abortion clinics, praying for the people who enter and offering alternatives accompanied by a genuine smile.  While he is located outside an abortion clinic, he is not simply offering love to the pregnant mothers and fathers.  He is loving the doctors, nurses, clinic escorts, men, women, and friends.  Each person who enters or passes by the clinic is shown an authentic witness of love.

My heart is much smaller than Msgr. Reilly’s heart, but I learned quite a bit from him.  Initially, I was all about the babies.  Through his words and witness, my heart began to be changed.  I began to feel love for the mothers and fathers who entered the clinic.  Then I began to experience an authentic love for the clinic escorts who thwarted our every attempt to offer help and compassion.  Finally, I was moved by love to encounter the doctors who performed abortions. Continue reading “An Encounter of Love”

Co-Workers

Co-Workers

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink. (Preparation of the Gifts Prayer)

I’ve been to Mass thousands of times, but I don’t believe these words ever stood out to me before.  Yet as Father said these words, I was struck by the beautiful interplay between God and man.  It is through the Lord providing the sun, rain, and nutrients that we have the grapes of the vine.  But the work does not all fall on God.  We tend to the vines, we harvest the grapes, we change them from simple fruit into wine.  Then we offer it back to the Lord and He transforms it into something far beyond us. Continue reading “Co-Workers”

Speak Truth

Speak Truth

There is something about truth that attracts.

It isn’t because the truth is always what we want to hear.  Many times, it is the exact opposite.  Truth, however, spoken ardently and sincerely can be a powerful force, a compelling and crushing beauty.

Challenging someone with unadorned truth can provoke change.  And it can be a testament to the great love and respect the truth-teller has for the other.  These reflections I’ve had spring from a rather unlikely source: I watched a movie. Continue reading “Speak Truth”

Their Eyes

I live for the moments when their eyes look like they did yesterday.  When I’m opening my heart because for a few moments it feels safe with a class, and their eyes are fastened on me.  I want to read the stories that are written there.  I want to profess my love for them even though it is all heightened and strengthened by the moment.  A few seem on the verge of tears, but all appear to grasp my sincerity and my desire to impart this knowledge to them.

I’m discerning on my feet if I should tell them about that powerful prayer experience I had a couple weeks ago.  And I do.  I talk about spiritual direction and share what I learned from it just the day before.

Maybe some are annoyed with my long preaching session, wondering if it is going to be required knowledge for the test.  But I cannot tell that those thoughts are running through their minds.  I can only see their eyes.  They are pools of experiences–hurt and joy.  And I desire to sit down with them and hear all the stories.  I don’t always feel that keen desire, sometimes I forget that their experiences are just as real as my own.

I’m trying to speak truth into situations that I do not know or understand, but I know they are in them.  Because I’m in similar situations.  It is part of the human condition.

The simple truth I desired to impart was this: Jesus knows.  He knows what it feels like to be in their shoes and to experience the pain they feel.  I spoke about how all of Jesus’ friends abandoned Him at the moment He most needed them.  He knows what it is like to feel betrayed and left alone.  He suffered for the sins and sufferings of the entire world, throughout all of history.  And He did this so that when we come to something that seems too much, He can tell us that He already passed through this, too.

And I asked them to find Jesus in the midst of it all.  How is Jesus loving you in this situation?  He is present in death, in their parents’ divorce, and in the betrayal of a friend.  He is loving us through every situation.

A priest pointed this out to me the other day–I told him I was seeking to see each experience as God trying to convert my heart and he included that each experience was God loving me.  How quick I am to shift the focus just enough that it distorts the image.  It is different to experience all as a means for my own conversion and quite another to see it as an avenue of His love.

“I don’t understand,” one student says.  “How can you find Jesus loving you in your parents’ divorce?”

And I don’t have a clear answer.  I can’t give them a Scripture passage or a Catechism reference to answer it nicely.  Instead, I must tell them that I don’t know how Jesus is seeking to love them in their difficulties, but I know that He is doing it.  That we need to open our hearts, to not pull back when we are wounded and to open them to the Healer.  I am speaking to myself as much as I am speaking to them.

Reminding them that Jesus is present in all, reinforces that belief in me.  All I’ve experienced He has already experienced and has thus sanctified the experience.  And each experience is a new way to receive His love.

All can be seen through the eyes of Love.

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His Human Heart

Jesus loves us with a human heart.

Human hearts are unruly things.  They don’t fit neatly into boxes.  They don’t follow the head as often as we may wish.  They can experience the entire gamut of emotions…in an hour.  They get conflicted, torn, bruised, inflamed, and expanded.

Human hearts can be fickle, quickly following the ebb and flow of the emotions one is surrounded by.  Yet they can be enduring in their sentiments, sometimes for far longer than we would wish them to be.

The hearts nestled within us are the great gifts that may appear to cause us the greatest of trials.  They feel heavy when we suffer or suffer with/for someone else.  At times, we may get frustrated with our responses, the spasm in our heart when nobody else seems to be impacted.

Jesus has one of these.  A human heart pumped Precious Blood through His veins and with that heart He loved.  He experienced anger when the temple was misused.  Jesus felt sorrow when He wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  He was compassionate and merciful to the sinful and the ill as they approached Him.

“He has loved us all with a human heart.  For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol for that…love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception.”   (CCC 478)

The Incarnation is the central point of Christianity.  We believe in a God who desired so much to encounter us, that He became one of us.  He didn’t send a mere messenger, He sent His Beloved Son, He came Himself.

We romanticize the earthly life of Jesus.  Of course life would be easy if we were God, we think.  And then we say that God couldn’t actually understand our pain or suffering, because He never experienced something like this.

He experienced it all.

No, maybe your particular situation is not one that Jesus found Himself in.  Yet on the cross He experienced the suffering of all humanity, in all its forms and intensity.  The “But You’re God” excuse only lasts for so long.  Yes, you have grasped His divinity.  Congratulations.  Now grasp His humanity.  It wasn’t a mask or a mere appearance, it is a reality.

His human heart beats.
I love you.

It aches for humanity.
Yes, I suffer also.

It remains present to us so that we might embrace Him in a deeper way.
“The Body of Christ.”

Your weary little heart needs to know that Christ has a heart like yours.

His heart is tender, vulnerable, open to love all.

This heart desires to dwell within you.

"After this He asked me for my heart, which I begged Him to take. He did so and placed it in His own Adorable Heart where He showed it to me as a little atom which was being consumed in this great furnace, and withdrawing it thence as a burning flame in the form of a heart, He restored it to the place whence He had taken it..."  -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify my heart.

Sensibly Sensitive?

Some words can be used in either a positive or a negative way, depending on the particular situation.  One such word, I believe, is “sensitive.”

“Well, he is such a sensitive guy.  He brought me soup when I didn’t feel well….”

“You are always so sensitive.  I say one little thing and you start crying.”

Yes, I know the context varies greatly but sensitive can be seen both as a desirable characteristic or something that one should try to curb or diminish in oneself.

I have become very sensitive to Halloween and to evil.  That is not to say that I am perfect, that I never do anything bad, or that I have a sixth sense that allows me to sense evil people.  I think, rather, that my sensitive seems to be highlighted simply because so many have become desensitized to evil. 

Just because I dislike something or have a sensitivity to it doesn’t immediately mean that it would be impermissible for anybody else to enjoy it or for it to not be a vice.  However, the culture’s love affair with evil and violence is sickening.  We are conditioning ourselves to not react to things that we should react to.

My hometown has seemed to really dive into celebrating Halloween over the last few years.  When I was younger I was used to seeing the sheets transformed into ghosts, the jack-o-lantern bags filled with leaves, and the fake cobwebs stretched across the decks of different houses in town.  I will admit I could fall into the category of being overly sensitive but the town has seemed to change for the worse. 

Last year, several houses had dramatic scenes staged on their front lawns.  One house we would drive past on the way to Mass and the scene was horrific, even if it was very obvious that it was fake.  The sheet covered mannequins had blood stains and were positioned in different ways.  The most memorable pose to me was of an elderly lady, complete with walker, with a man coming up behind her armed with a chainsaw.  I saw it for weeks and it disgusted me.  One Sunday on the way home with just my mom, I saw it and I just started to sob.  People thought it was fine, humorous even, to stage vicious murders in their front yards.  It literally hurt my heart and I felt sick. 

This year I have battled within myself the desire to look and see their annual bloodbath and yet not wanting to feel sick again.  The glimpses I’ve had revealed someone wielding a sword and one quick glance left me convinced that someone was being tortured on an operating table…but then I was never certain and I was too divided to actually study the scene when we drove by.

I just don’t understand the enticement to evil.  Why is it permissible to glorify the most sadistic acts simply because it is Halloween?  I don’t believe that seeing a lawn display of fake murder will make the children of the town desire to go kill people.  However, I firmly believe that seeing this, repeatedly, and with the view that this is all in good fun, does something to our hearts.  My heart is already stony enough without needing to view funny mock crimes that I don’t at present find particularly funny. 

That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was not the result of squeamishness or an overactive imagination.  I think it had some connection with just receiving Our Lord in Mass.  Perhaps it was His Heart aching within mine.  Think of the incongruities of this picture: Our Lord, having suffering and died for us, gazing at us with infinite love as we laugh at things that completely strip the human person of their dignity.  It doesn’t praise the goodness of humanity or the goodness of God.  It instills fear and not love.  It brings sickness, not health.

So am I sensitive?  Yes and no.  Sometimes I run over other people and disregard their feelings in the most insensitive ways.  Other times I begin to cry at the drop of a hat.  A sensitivity to evil, though, seems like a good thing.  This is not to mean fearfulness or anxiousness.  Yet a perception to what is not of the Lord can certainly work to draw you nearer to what is of the Lord. 

Who had the most sensitive heart in the world?  Our Lord.  May this stony heart became a new heart, a heart of flesh.  And may St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this battle that rages on earth and help bring us to the glorious victory found in Heaven.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.   

Oh, the humanity!

I have a secret that I would love to share with you.  It may shock you and take you totally by surprise, but it is something you should probably come to terms with now.

We are human.

It is true.  With all of the beautiful messiness that is involved with being a part of this human race, we sometimes forget this truth.  While it doesn’t mean that everyone is excused for anything wrong that they do simply on the grounds that they are a member of fallen humanity, it does change one’s perspective of the matter.  Through reading another blog I’ve been introduced to the author Heather King and I must say she is altering the way I think. 

She gets to the heart of things and tends to present things in a way that is both naked (i.e. uncomfortable and unvarnished) and refreshing.  One of the things that was emphasized in a book of hers that I was reading was that we are a beautiful mess, we are broken, we are fallen but that it is because of all of these things that we should embrace life.  In all of the sufferings and troubles, we are alive and that is something that she wouldn’t trade for anything.

The chance to suffer.  We don’t typically approach suffering with a sense that we are glad to have this experience.  Very recently I experienced the death of my grandpa.  It was a time in which I was invited to enter into suffering.  Yet while I am grieving, I have also been witnessing the ways that my family is dealing with their grief.  My observations have lead to many more prayers for my family.  The raw grief I see in some of my family causes me to wonder if I am experiencing this so much differently because I have a strong relationship with the Lord or if it is because I loved him less or if it is because I am allowing myself to remain detached.  I’m not quite certain which it is, to be honest.  The brokenness of the human person has again been revealed to me.  I view this not with a sense of condemnation but rather with a sorrow at the human condition.  We are all reckless wanderers without the cross of Christ grounding us. 

Welcome to this broken, sinful, beautiful, wonderful world filled with humans who are the same.  There is this hole within each of us.  Hollywood tells us that our weight or clothes can fill this hole.  Romantic movies tell us that our hole will be filled by that perfect man/woman we are waiting to find.  Other facets of the modern world encourage money, material gain, people, or feelings to fill this void we have. 

You cannot complete me.  I cannot complete you.  Whenever I get married, I will never want to hear from that man (as wonderful, charming, and romantic though he may be) that he completes me.  He does not.  I am a mere human.  I need something greater than me to give sense and purpose to my life, to ground me when the world is hopelessly and desperately spinning out of control, to love me when I am acting in ways that are completely unlovable, to understand me when I do not even know what I understand, to fight for me when I am giving up, and to reveal Truth to me when I am believing lies.  It is unfair to expect any human to do all of these things.  We are flawed human beings, but we are beautiful.  We are beautiful not in our brokenness but in the ways God desires to use our brokenness to bring about wholeness, to cause greater healing.  These deep needs that I have can only be truly fulfilled by Our Lord.

As a human, I will fail and make mistakes.  I will judge others, I will sin, I will hurt others, and I will fail to be forgiving.  As a human, I will let you down and I will fail to live up to the standards of a Christian.  But humans also make big comebacks.  I’ve seen them within my family and I’ve seen them within myself. 

God has a soft spot for humanity.  He knows what we are through and through.  He became man to reveal to us this great love He has.  But He is the one person (or three persons?) that we can rely on entirely, who can fill the hole in our hearts, who has lived in this beautiful and messy world and managed to make sense of it all by an act of extreme foolish love.  The cross–an act of folly that is the only true sense in the world.

Embark on the adventure of life today striving to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Try to see the beautiful ridiculousness of this world and to rejoice in the glories of humanity.  And then draw near to the cross of Christ, pray to each person in the Blessed Trinity, and lay the strongest foundation that you possibly can.  We are human.  God understands that.  Nevertheless, strive to be the saint God calls you to be.  And let’s learn to love like Him. 

Romans 5:8