Pope Francis last week inaugurated the “Year of Mercy.”
Today, more than ever, our world needs to feel and experience the tenderness and warmth of God’s merciful love.
There are so many broken or wounded marriages, so much anxiety and stress, so many trials and temptations that are bringing good people down, and Christ wants us to do something about it!
Our team of business leaders in Manhattan recently made the commitment to bring in a bagged lunch for a homeless person on the street once a week. They are asking their family to sign a handwritten note promising prayers, and after they find out the name, they report back to the family and they all pray for him or her that evening.
They are also giving them a holy card, a warm smile and a handshake. Tuesday is “my” day, so last Monday evening, I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on raisin bread!), found a bag of chips, a banana and a small bottle of water and put all of this in a plastic bag. I had a noon lunch in the city that day, so I started looking for a homeless person at around 11:30 a.m.
I discovered a homeless woman on 38th street in between Madison and Fifth, and she looked hungry.
I said, “Hello ma’am. I made a sandwich and packed a lunch for you. Are you hungry?” She responded with a big smile, “Thank you very much, Father!”
I said, “I also wanted to remind you that God the Father really loves you and sees your beauty and dignity as a person, and I wanted to make sure you knew that.”
She thanked me again and then said, “I don’t have much, Father, but I do have Jesus. I talk to him and he talks to me and this is the greatest treasure a person can have. I may be on the street, but this will not prevent me from evangelizing.”
I gave her a little blessing and walked away with a warm feeling in my heart. She gave me so much more than I gave her!
Last month, we had our annual trip father-daughter mission trip down to St. Michael’s Special School in New Orleans, Louisiana. This school focuses on serving and educating boys and girls with special needs, principally with Down syndrome and autism. One of the boys with Down syndrome came up to me before Mass and just wanted to tell me about his two older sisters for about 10 minutes, he seemed to really appreciate that I just patiently listened.
Another girl who served the mass said, “Father Michael, why do all of you have to go? Can’t you stay for a few more days? We are really going to miss you!” Several of the parents of these special needs kids prepared a “red bean soup and rice” for us on the final day, and needless to say, it was off the charts! There was so much love and kindness in that school, and we all were touched deeply.
Our young professionals and lumen members recently committed to helping out Covenant House in New York City. Covenant House is dedicated to helping 16- to 20-year-old homeless teenagers get back in the classroom or into workforce, with a whole team of counselors, therapists and medical professionals to make it happen. One of our engaged couples just sent out their wedding invitations mentioning that in lieu of wedding gifts, to make a donation to Covenant House.
Two of our business leaders just organized a sleep out with their respective business associates to raise money, and although it was really tough sleeping outside in the parking lot, it definitely gave them a real sense of what “sleeping on the street” feels like. We will be directing seminars and workshops after Christmas to benefit these children and sharing the deep human and spiritual resources that our group has with them.
Covenant House simply works, but they truly depend on the help of volunteers and donations to keep it going.
I recently sat next to a homeless man in a Starbucks in New York City. He turned to me and said, “Reverend, have you ever slept out in the street? Have you ever not showered for two straight weeks? Have you ever had four pairs of socks on and been so cold that you cannot even feel your toes? Have you ever had someone come up to you with a cold bottle of water and a cold sandwich at 2 a.m. when it is 10 degrees out and say, ‘Stay warm!’ But to be honest, all of that is not so bad. The hardest thing for me is that I am treated like a piece of garbage on the street. People do not respect me, they do not listen to me or really care about me. This is really hard.”
I saw a few tears coming out of his eyes and then I thought how much Jesus loves him and tried my best to communicate this love.
Let’s all try to love a little better in this Year of Mercy, especially to the marginalized and hurting members of our society.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.
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