This Lent I’ve been making sure to come every week on St. Joseph’s Project, the Sons’ Friday excursion in downtown Boston to feed the homeless with a little bit of food and a little bit of love. It’s been a fruitful “penance” for Lent, though really I should be doing it every Friday throughout the year.
The fruit has, naturally, been borne from encountering the homeless out on the streets, seeing their poverty anew and and getting just the tiniest bit of empathy for their constant suffering. Especially during this monsoon weekend in Boston, I’ve been particularly grateful for the four walls around me and a roof over my head for the mere purpose of keeping me dry. So many people don’t even have this. What do the homeless do when it rains for 60 straight hours, especially when it’s still basically winter and the temperatures aren’t getting above 45 degrees? I’ve caught cold just standing outside with them for an hour and a half on Friday (and, granted, not getting much sleep the night before, but how often does a homeless man or woman get a good night’s rest?). Of course, the homeless (in fact, most people) are much, much, much more resilient than I am. Still, being with them reminds you to be grateful for the little things that you don’t notice, that you take for granted. Four walls and a roof, with a little bit of heat, too. Kind and good people to live with. Food to keep your stomach full three times a day. Hot water to comfortably clean yourself. Clean clothes to wear. And so on down the line.
Beyond this reminder, though, I saw this past Friday how the suffering of homelessness can open one’s heart to love in a new way. At the South Station “work” (i.e. ask for change) a couple married for over six years now. Theirs is a simple love, and because of that, a true one. It’s obviously not based on riches, on looks, on power, on comfort. It’s love for the other person’s sake, and it’s awesome, in the real sense of the word. Each person’s love fuels the life of the others. This couple, although homeless, jobless, basically separated from family and friends, carrying the bleak past of dabbling in drugs, coming from the worst part of Dorchester, occasionally being arrested just for having nowhere to go, are grateful to God for what they have, both the material generosity of others and, perhaps more importantly, the companionship of people like my brothers who serve them on St. Joseph’s project. They have an inner joy – not happiness, for how could one be happy in such a situation (the poverty of religious life, which is a chosen poverty, is another story) – which endures through suffering and in fact, I believe, is borne of that very suffering. And that is awe-some. My group spoke with this couple for about an hour and a half. I plan on coming back every week that I can to continue to catch up and, hopefully, build up a friendship with these people. Just thinking about it fills me with excitement and anticipation.
Finally, fruit of this Lenten practice has also come from the generosity of my brothers in Sons. One of the members of my group, speaking with our favorite homeless couple, offered them his umbrella so that they could stay dry during the impending monsoon. I in fact did not know it was supposed to rain this weekend, and now, looking back on my brother’s small act of generosity, I see how effective it has been. Without that umbrella, our friends would be completely drenched at this point; with the umbrella, they can at least attain some level of dryness (not much, but still, some). It’s always powerful to see the generosity of my friends and realize again what incredible people I have around me.
Keep the homeless in your prayers, especially: Frank, Rosie, Gray, Jenna, Arj, Jimmy, George, Pat, Vera, Mad Dog, Sonny, Jean, and Jackie.