It's amazing what can happen when we make ourselves available for God. He uses our weak and broken vessels to show forth His glory. I've always said, and truly believe, that it is the most willing souls that are given the most graces. It's not about how "special" or "holy" we are (trust me), it's about how WILLING we are to show up. I really think its that simple. Show up, make yourself available, and God will use you! Oh how He delights in it! I can feel it when we are out there talking to people about Him. I sense His loving gaze on us as when speak of Him and His mother. When I silently pray to the Blessed Virgin when I put a miraculous medal around someone neck, It's almost as if I can hear her say "Yes, daughter...I will bring them to my Son..."
The other day Scott and I walked from Holy Rosary over the Burnside Bridge to downtown. We had our usual supplies, cooler full of cold drinks, chocolate, rosaries and my bag of miraculous medals. The first people we met were a couple who had been homeless for 8 months and their friend, a marine vet. At 10 in the morning, the marine had already gotten drunk and was holding a beer in his hand. The couple were high on meth and yet seemed so coherent and friendly. We stopped and offered them a cold drink and some candy to strike up a conversation with them. They gladly consented and seemed to want to talk to us. Scott started talking to the Marine while I spoke to the couple. This made me realize why it is so good to go out in pairs. A real "tag team" of evangelization, if you will. Plus, this way I can listen to Scott's responses and learn from his wisdom. He really helps me know how to engage people in conversation about the faith and the advice he gives me I hold in high esteem.
The women I spoke to accepted a rosary from me gladly and let me put a miraculous medal around her neck. She started to tell me about her problems with meth addiction and how it had taken everything from her. She has three children who, for obvious reasons, were removed from her care. Mostly listening to her story, I chimed in to let her know I had experienced the same heartaches in my life at times. I was struck by her smile and her apparent lack of sadness. Her skin was smooth and glowing. It took some effort for me to notice the telltale signs that she was homeless. Her clothes were dirty and she had healing MRSA sores on her arms. Despite all this, before I left her, I hugged her. I like to touch the people we meet whenever I sense they want me to. I see Jesus in them, wanting to be touched and loved. I hope they see that not everyone is repulsed by their filthiness and that Jesus desires to embrace them as a loving Father. As this women was talking to me, I gazed into her eyes. They were clear and bright...a beautiful shade of light blue. This was another instance when I felt like I could see right into someone's soul and it was so beautiful I could see why Jesus wanted to claim it back for His own.
Some people make it much easier to see Jesus in them for they are more transparent. Some people seem to have a more clear soul, there is more goodness in them. Other people, when I look in their eyes, I see only darkness. The disturbing reality that some souls have chosen against God and have been consumed with evil. Its always those people who are the first to say that the devil has "no power" over them that they "aren't afraid of evil spirits". Scott and I shudder whenever we hear someone say those words, for we know what a formidable enemy the devil really is. I always say that the devil doesn't care if you know you're in his army or not, he doesn't need any kudos. He'll take anybody he can get to do his bidding. In fact, I think he prefers to lead his slaves of darkness in secret. That way, he can betray them at the last moment and they won't even know what hit them. Every time I think of it, I feel an icy chill wash over my soul.
As we said our goodbyes and kept walking, we started to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as is our custom when we are walking, waiting to see who God will send our way next. Walking over the bridge, looking out at the waters, along side my very best friend, I had a sense of real peace. I felt like Jesus was saying to me, "Yes, this is what I made you for... I had the real sense that Scott and I were very special to Jesus because we were wiling to let Him use us. We both share an unshakable conviction that Jesus and His Church are everything. There really is nothing else! We are not saints...but we want to be and thats what matters. Every day, we try, sometimes we fail. As Father Gabriel said in a homily once, "If you fall, pick yourself up and walk the way of the Cross with Our Lord!"
As we came to the end of the bridge, the first person we met was "John". John was leaning forward with his eyes closed, lost in a heroin nod. We woke him from his chemical coma by asking if he wanted a cold drink. He gladly took it and I put a miraculous medal around his neck. John then did something that is rare, but when it happens is so special. He asked us to pray for him right there. He looked so saddened as he told us that he experienced the soul of his diseased mother coming to ask for his help. He said he felt that her soul was in unrest and this greatly disturbed him. I instantly wondered if this meant her soul was crying out to her son from purgatory, because the souls of the damned have no such recourse. Scott put his hand on one of his shoulders and I on the other. I let Scott take the lead in prayer and I added my own petitions silently. We asked God to heal this young man and to help the souls of his mother find eternal rest. It is so wonderful when these types of encounters happen. It's amazing how certain souls recognize their need for intercessory prayer. This is the type of example I use to defend the pious practice of praying to the saints for their help, especially the Mother of God. As we left John, he thanked us sincerely for our prayers and seemed a little more at peace. I knew that after we left him he would fall forward, back into the abyss of the devils "rest".
We walked around some more and emptied our cooler, having brief conversations with the "poor in spirit." Each time I go out, I am keenly aware of two things. One, I understand why Jesus loves the poor so much and Two, that He expresses such great delight in us as we work for Him, being such wretched sinners who have turned in repentance.
Walking back over the bridge to our cars, Scott stopped to teach me some of his wisdom. I stood next to him as he pointed to a swimming pool in an apartment complex. It was a perfect shade of blue and sterile with chlorine. He said, "See that pool? That is what the devil offers. So "pristine" and "perfect". Now look over at the river and compare the sheer size of it to the pool. The river is what God offers. Notice the rushing, life giving waters of the river. All the fish that swim and the animals that drink from its source. Compare that life giving power to the swimming pool, where nothing can live as it is a chemical soup." Then he pointed to the river as a boat rushed by causing many large waves. He said, "See that boat? That boat is like one of the saints. Its one great missionary causing so many ripples in their wake, affecting a great multitude of souls." As I listened to him, I allowed the words he spoke to lull me into a place of serenity within me. He told me the giant trees on either side of the street were like giant angels in heaven and painted the whole scene so that I could really see it. I told him I could just imagine the two of us sitting with our favorite saints, no longer needing their relics because we had them right in front of us! Oh the stories they will tell us! Oh how we will reunite with them in the loving embrace of a long lost friend when we run up to them for the first time in heaven! We will sit at their feet and ask them all the questions we've been longing to ask. Ask them to tell us all their stories from their lives of such virtue and beauty...what a glorious day it will be. I am so grateful for my friendship with Scott who takes the time to impart his wisdom to me. He truly is so special to God.
As we move forward into the winter months in Portland, we are anticipating the rain and cold. We will fondly remember the bright shining sun and glittering waters of the river as we tread through the snow and bitterness of cold. This is the glory of our faith, that even in the suffering of penance, there is real beauty to behold united to the Cross of Christ. Soon, the summer will seem like just a dream as we walk in the spirit of penance, offering up all our little sufferings for the conversions of all the poor sinners we meet.
The weather has started to turn and rain is coming this next week. As I put my sweater on for the first time, I feel the sweetness of gratitude for all the graces God has given me this summer. In May I started walking the streets with Scott and my whole spiritual life changed. I've gained life-long friends and the knowledge of what God created me to do.
What more could I ask for?
Yesterday we went out fishing for men. Guided by the Holy Sprit, we try to let Him guide our words and actions. With a cooler full of ice cold gatorade in tow, Lisa and I took our handfuls of rosaries out to the streets. The encounters we would have this day are some I will never forget.
We started the day by going to mass together at Holy Rosary. On the way to mass, Lisa and I had a deep conversation during the car ride about the nature of the Christian mission. We blessed ourselves with my Saint Jude Oil from the National Shrine in San Francisco and I gave Lisa an adorable antique crocheted "nuns work" relic of an obscure blessed from South America. Lisa said that she smelled the sweet fragrance of roses in my car and asked me if I had sprayed something earlier. I said "No! It must be the fragrance of the Saints!" I wear around my neck relics of my patrons. Saint Gemma Galgani, Saint Paul of the Cross, Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Saint Margarete Mary Alacoque, Saint Francis De Sales and St. Francis De Chantel. I am in constant need of their help and I ask them throughout the day to increase my charity. On the way, I was telling Lisa that I had an intense interior experience the night before where Jesus impressed on me what I felt was a panic for the state of the lost souls in Portland. I had this feeling that there were so many souls out on the streets who had never heard about Jesus and His Church and because of their lifestyles, were in danger of losing their souls to hell. I had the feeling of "If you won't go, who will?" Suddenly I felt this intense urgency and sorrow that I wasn't doing enough. I had only been walking the streets once week, sometimes once very two weeks. I always try to go with someone else and because of my two year old, I am only available during normal working hours when most people are at their jobs. I had felt fine with this arrangement until the night before, when Jesus rebuked me and made me feel the desolation of these poor souls. They are wandering in the darkness of this sinful world with no one to show them the way. The Catholic presence on the streets in non existent it seems. I felt true sorrow for this and I was compelled to do more.
I had the feeling that as Catholics, we were shuttered in our Churches, having the joy of the Truth with us, and hoarding it for ourselves! I felt that I was not doing enough to help bring Jesus to people who don't know Him. I know, that as Catholics, if we are in a state of grace, we bring Jesus in the PHYSICAL sense too with us because of the Most Holy Eucharist! I've witnessed people crying when they see us coming, their souls recognizing the reality of Jesus. Possibly they cry from an afflicted conscious. They cry because the reality hits them that there is a loving God who sees them...loves them...who understands their pain. A God who wants to console their inmost hearts, to take them to Himself and conform them to His Glory.
As we started walking one of the first people we met was a man named "Ray". Ray had a joyful smile full of childlike trust and began to tell us how he used to hold a cardboard sign at the corner we were on. He said he asked Jesus to help him find work and quickly Our Lord answered his prayer. He had a modest job and no longer had to hold a sign and beg. Ray beamed with pride in the most beautiful way. He was so proud of Jesus, and kept telling us stories of times when He had saved his life. Once from alcohol poisoning in a doorway when Ray was all alone, late at night. Another time when he had major heart surgery and wasn't expected to live due to complications. He showed us his very large scar down the front of his chest which made quite the impression on us. With his face beaming with the biggest smile of gratitude, he told us how he knew Jesus had saved him. He thanked us repeatedly for bringing our cold drinks and sacramentals out to the streets. I gave Ray a rosary and put a miraculous medal around his neck. He happily took my Catholic Answers booklet about the Church as well and I told him about Holy Rosary being so close. As we walked away, Ray would do something that I think I will never forget. He held out his hand to offer me a twenty dollar bill, saying that he wanted to help me with the cost of my ministry. My heart was instantly made twice its size and tears swelled in my eyes. I could not believe that this homeless man would offer me twenty dollars out of love for our mission. Twenty dollars is A LOT of money to a homeless person! It would be like a "normal housed person" offering me $500!
I looked Ray in his eyes, putting my hand over my heart and said "Oh no, please keep it, but I am so grateful that you offered that to me. That just touched my heart!" He reluctantly looked down at the bill and then put it back in his pocket, beaming back at me with that ear to ear smile of his. I hugged him and we were on our way.
The next person we would meet will be burned into my memory as well. God had put a young man named "Ben" in our path. As he walked by, I offered him a cold gatorade, which he took gladly. Then, I tried to offer him a rosary which he refused to take, walking away saying rudely, "I'm not Catholic!." I told him you don't have to be Catholic to take a rosary. He angrily walked away and quickly turned the corner. He stopped to talk to two of his friends who were sitting on the ground. A man and a women who had 5 kids together, I'm assuming who were in the midst of some kind of child protective services crisis. As Lisa and I walked over to offer them rosaries and drinks, I took the opportunity to talk to Ben again. He stood there, skinny and covered in meth sores, his piercing blue eyes shining out through all the filth. The beauty I saw in his eyes made me realize the state of his wounded soul. Clutching his cardboard sign under his arm, he swayed back and forth, angrily telling me that he had been homeless for 10 years and was only 28! He told me that he hadn't prayed for anyone in many years. He was angry and he admitted he was taking out his anger on me. I smiled at him and told him that "I don't mind Ben, you can take out your anger on me." As I said this, his face smoothed out and softened, he relaxed his shoulders and stood still on both feet.
He opened up to me about his desolation, how he really felt terrible burden of his drug addiction and homelessness. He told me, "I just want to give up, I kind of want you to tell me that God is not real, but I know thats not true." I said, "God is real, and He sees you Ben and He loves you desperately." I told him about how I used to be homeless and how coming into the Church had saved me. He listened to me, admitting that he thought I was beautiful and thats why he gave me a second chance at a conversation. I thanked him for the compliment which came across as very innocent and non threatening. Then, he looked at me and said, "You know, no one takes me seriously....but YOU ARE, you really take me seriously don't you?!" I said, "Yes, I do. And other people should as well! You have just as much dignity as the richest person in this city! In fact, YOU, my friend, are much closer to the kingdom of heaven than the rich man is!...(I asked him) "What does Jesus say about a rich man entering heaven?" Bet answered, "Like a camel though the eye of needle...." I was delighted! He knew the scriptures! I said, "I would rather hang out with homeless people ANY DAY then rich people, the rich people are so ugly to us, they make fun of us and mock us. They don't usually want our rosaries or our company. I much prefer the poor! And so does Jesus!"
Ben graced me with a smile and I could see a little twinkle in his eye as I said this to him. Looking over at Lisa, crouched on the ground holding hands with the couple, I noticed she was praying with them. The man was crying as she prayed...clutching the rosary she had given him. I was blown away by the beauty of the moment and I was so grateful for my wonderful friends charism of intercessory prayer.
Before I walked away, I smiled and asked, "Ben, are you sure you don't want a rosary?" He said with a smile, "Ok, I'll take one." As I handed it to him, I asked if I could put a miraculous medal around his neck...He said yes! Smiling at him, seeing past all the sores and the dirt, I leaned toward him and lovingly, like a mother for her son, fastening the medal around his neck. I silently asked the Blessed Virgin to help Ben come to her Son. Patting the medal, I leaned back and said, "Maybe you could pray for me later, and I could pray for you...I could be that person that starts you praying for other people again!" He smiled and said, "Ok, I will." I told him how nice it was to spend time with him and I hoped to see him again. Lisa and I kept walking......
We crossed the bridge and handed out the rest of our cold water and gatorade to the homeless gathered around the rescue mission. People holding out their hands, begging to receive one of our rosaries, one man wanting an extra to give to his friend. He said he had a plastic rosary that he treasured but had lost. I was struck by longing for God these people have. They are so beautiful to me, their souls shining through the filth like a glowing diamond. The humility they exude, thanking us over and over again for the rosaries and medals.
I told them that I used to be homeless and addicted to IV herion, and they were shocked! I pulled up my sleeves to show them the scars I had from injecting and their jaws flew open! They said that by looking at me, they NEVER would have guessed I used to be a junkie! I laughed, saying to myself "Oh, if you only knew...." They asked me how I got clean, and I said I became Catholic and after receiving the Eucharist, Jesus came to dwell inside me. I told then Jesus healed me from the inside through the sacraments. That I was coming up on 3 years clean and sober." One of the young men exclaimed as he clutched his rosary, "WOW, thank you! You give me so much hope! Thank you!" I said, "Jesus is a real person, He saved me through His Catholic Church, He is God and He is just waiting to save you too!"
If all I did was give them some hope and encouragement that day, then it was a job well done. I am here to tell them about the Church. The saving power of the sacraments. The Eucharist, with the power to defeat the forces of hell inside us. Without it, I can see, not only in my life but in the life of others, the battle is one easily lost. We are simply not strong enough to fight the demon of addiction, we are small and weak. Alone we can do nothing, but with the Eucharist, and Jesus dwelling inside us, in the physical reality of our being, we will be victorious!
For it is He who has conquered sin and death. He payed the price with His blood, and now He desires to raise us to new life in Him.
As Catholics we have the answer to this crisis of addiction....let us spread the word that Christ has overcome the grave! Let us plant the seeds in people about the sacraments. May our lives serve as proof that miracles really do happen! That you, too, can be pulled out of the pit...you, too, can be healed, mind body and soul.
This is not a fairy tale...this is real life. Miracles really do happen!
May God bless you.