On this day of love, I just want to share a quick story about a homeless man.
This past Sunday at church, a homeless man came in. I am used to seeing a couple wander in and out every Sunday and like that most of the parishioners do not flinch and make room for them in their pews.
However, this past Sunday, a few parishioners were not as welcoming toward such a man. Ironically, it was while the priest was talking about how lepers used to be shunned from mass, only able to watch it through a slit in a wall at the back of the church, and how that only made the lepers feel more isolated versus part of the community. He said that, instead, we need to welcome them, not make them squint from the back.
All the while, at the exact same time, I was standing in the back of the church and watched as the homeless man, a few steps from me, tried to listen to the priest, talking and laughing to himself in between, and I saw a few parishioners blatantly move across the room to get away from him. I was sickened. I knew these people as helping out the community in other ways, yet what was different now?
A few minutes later, the homeless man left. Perhaps he saw that he was not welcomed? It was heartbreaking. I wanted to go apologize for the people’s behavior.
As someone who has volunteered with homeless people for nearly twenty years, perhaps I was not fearful of the man as I assume these parishioners were. Maybe he was there for the same reasons the rest of us were, or maybe he just wanted a place to go. Either way, he wasn’t going to cause any of us harm. And weren’t the parishioners listening to the priest’s homily? Especially on a day that it was about not ostracizing lepers?
In essence, that could have been me. Census-wise, I would be considered homeless – with no permanent address – for two years and nearly three months now. No, I certainly do not look the same as the man who came in, and I had probably taken a shower more recently than he had, but neither of us have a permanent roof over our heads; I just disguise my lack-of-residence more. If my couch-surfing has taught me anything, it has reaffirmed building community with people, talking to each other face-to-face – just like we should do with true homeless people who do not have the luxury of staying on their friends’ couches.
So love your neighbor. Stand still next to a homeless person at church, don’t run away. Outside of mass, talk to them. Often, I do not (and can not) give them money, but I do smile, give them whatever food I happen to have on me, or speak to them instead of looking away. It’s too easy to do that. The least we can do is acknowledge them, reaffirm their existence. After all, homelessness can happen to any of us.
I love my church. But I certainly did not love the ignorant behavior I saw inside.
You can listen to the priest’s homily here, just click on “homily” on the top right side of the page.