I was very blessed to be able to attend two Eucharistic Processions back to back this year. The first one taking place in Beaverton which my three-year-old son Judah attended as well. After the procession, my good friend Marie and I set up a Saint Paul Street Evangelization table at the farmers market while Judah played with Marie’s husband in the fountain. I must admit, I find it so much more difficult to connect with “normal” people. Especially rich people, you know, the types of people with high paying jobs and disposable incomes. I have realized that I become closed off and nervous around people like this and these were the types of people who were at the all organic, expensive farmer’s market.
It is amazing how far some of these people are from God and how very close the poor are to Him. Our Lord knew this when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” It is interesting that I find it easier to be around the outcasts of society; the homeless, the drug addicts and the prostitutes. There is something so very beautiful about a soul who is “poor” in every way, and something so very ugly about a soul who is “rich” in things of the world. Our Blessed Lord is helping me to be more comfortable with these “rich” people, but I am a work in progress for sure.
The real beauty of the poor was made clear to me again during the Eucharistic Procession in downtown Portland with the Archbishop. Many more people processed in this one and I found out later the numbers reached a thousand! If only I could describe the absolute “oneness” of all of us that day, even with all our different cultural expressions of the faith. There were the beautiful Vietnamese women with their long, flowing dresses praying the rosary in their native tongue. Then there were the Hispanic Catholics singing and shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!” All of us united in the one true faith yet all reflecting a different facet of the beauty of God. It was a glorious sight to behold, all the different people of God.
' Then, you had us, in our Jesus Caritas tunics, trailing behind the massive line of the faithful. Rolling coolers in hand, pockets full of sacramentals, on the lookout for the “poor in spirit” and breaking all the “rules” of the procession by not staying in a neat line. We could be seen running back and forth across the street to wherever the Spirit would lead us, much to the dismay of the official “procession attendants” who were watching to make sure everyone stayed together.
Scott, Chris, Nick, Dave and Shawn..all of us together for the first time. I was grateful for the chance to be around such souls, so close to Our Lord's Sacred Heart. Truly, these men have a gift which the world so desperately needs. They are not afraid to follow the Spirit even when it leads “outside the lines” and the radical nature of the Gospel of Christ becomes manifest in their presence. It was one of those times when you could literally FEEL the Holy Spirit bouncing off of us and on to the people we spoke to.
One such person who touched me deeply was named Michael, please pray for him. I don’t think I have witnessed true contrition in this way when doing the street ministry before. Not like this. When I tried to give Michael a miraculous medal, he wouldn’t take it. Looking down, he simply stated to me “ I am not worthy to have that…” Michael was homeless, missing his teeth and his dignity as a child of God. Truly, Michael was so very “poor in spirit.” I sat down next to him and responded that none of us were worthy! I confessed to him that I had been a heroin junkie, too selfish to stop using and had lost two of my children to the state at the same time, Scott telling him how he robbed banks and spent time in a maximum security prison. Michael looked up at Scott and reached out to shake his hand. They had made a connection and God’s grace was getting through to Michael. Michael told us how he had “squandered all the good things in his life, all the opportunities.” He softly cried with his head down, apologizing for allowing his masculine exterior to fail him in this moment as he became emotional. He became like a little child in the presence of the Lord, who was only a few blocks away in the Monstrance…lovingly held up by our Archbishop for the world to see and to love.
That day I did not hear any blame coming from Michael, he never said it was anyone’s fault that his life was a mess except his own. This is not very common, let it be known. Almost all the people I talk to while doing this type of ministry have someone else to blame…the boyfriend, the government, the parents and the school system…but not Michael. He knew that he had “squandered all his talents.” Michael told me that “When I get right, I’ll go back to God.” I exclaimed, “Michael don’t wait! God doesn’t want you to wait until you are all better to come to Him! Come to Him now!” I told him that if he would allow Our Lord to help him, that He would. Softly crying, looking down and shaking his head, Michael confessed, “This can’t be it…this can’t be it…” I, of course, knew exactly how he felt in that moment. Not very long ago, I had been homeless, sitting on the side of the road and also saying to myself, “This can’t be it….it can’t be!”
Certainly, I had been right. And I knew that if Michael would just give Jesus a chance, He would change his whole life…I told Michael about how much He loved him, How Jesus would have died on the cross if it had been ONLY for him! I asked him to to imagine this type of love!
After we spoke to Michael for a while, we got up to keep going…the procession having trailed many blocks ahead without us. Patting Michael’s back, I asked him if he would now take the miraculous medal. Smiling he nodded and I asked if I could put it around his neck. Gratefully, he excepted and as I placed Our Lady’s medal around his neck, I silently prayed for the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring him to her Son. I knew that Mary’s feminine presence had softened Michael’s heart while at the same time, the masculine presence of my comrades had given him solidarity with his fellow man. How obvious was it the beauty of the two sexes, male and female? How they complement each other so wonderfully is so clear to me in moments like this one.
With Our Lady’s medal around his neck, we left Michael and carried on. As we were walking back to the Cathedral, Scott reminded us to look for Michael again. Thankfully, we spotted him across the street. Gleefully, we all raised our voices to him, “Hi Michael!” as he smiled waving back at us…it was as though we were long lost friends of a sort. Anyone watching would think we had known Michael for ages and had a close bond. This notion would not be far off at all, for we did have a special bond….We were all bonded in the “poverty of our spirits” before the Good Lord. There were no doubts amongst us of our real, desperate need for God’s grace. We shared in the awareness that we are all so very poor, begging God for every good gift.
There is no difference between Michael and the rest of us, for we are all beggars of God. I thank the Almighty for the gift of Michael that day, helping me to remember how blessed are we when we are poor in spirit! Amen.