The Pope is coming to the “City of Brotherly Love.” It’s a really big deal for a lot of Americans, and a particularly big deal for the homeless community. Wait…what? The homeless community? That’s right, the homeless folks. Why is this such a big deal for the homeless? I’m glad you’ve asked! I’ll elaborate.
Most Americans are able to stroll through their mundane lives every day without having to give much thought or attention to anyone else outside of their circle. They wake up, shower, maybe eat a little breakfast, pick up their $5 coffee on their way to work, punch in and out, and head home. Granted, there may be some variety in there somewhere, but the storyline is predictable.
There’s another side to America that many prefer not to think about. On the other side of the tracks, these folks wake up in their cardboard box (or tent if they’re lucky), gather what little belongings they have, and head toward their most profitable street corner to lay down their dignity and pride to beg for food, money, or a ride somewhere. These are the homeless people. The vast majority of these people don’t have the comforts of taking a hot shower much less eating a meal or being so frivolous as to spend $5 on a cup of coffee. Somewhere along the way, life threw them a curveball, and they struck out. Sadly, we’re not as far removed from their lifestyle as we think we are.
Life could very well throw any of us that same curveball, and one way or another we could end up warming ourselves by a fire-in-a-barrel under the bridge with them. I know right now you think it’s frustrating to have to sit and wait 20 minutes for a table to come available at your favorite restaurant, but imagine waiting for hours in the wind, rain, snow, or ice to eat a meal at a soup kitchen. Imagine having to stand in line for hours hoping for a one night stay in a shelter with a bed and pillow under your head, only to be the next person in line to be let in but the first person turned away because they’re “at capacity.” Imagine the smell radiating from your body because you can’t remember the last time you had a shower. Men, imagine not being able to shave your face – ladies, your legs and armpits – for months, even years! Imagine lice, bed bugs, flies and pests relentlessly bombarding you and you having no way to find relief. Imagine having to drink dirty rain water from the side of a street curb just to quench your thirst.
Now, imagine doing all of that with your children by your side.
That’s the reality of the American homeless community. They’re scattered all over the United States, and some cities are better to their homeless people than others. The reality of their condition remains the same for most, however. I’m sure some of what I’ve described may sound like a stretch, but I can assure you it’s not. I’ve worked full-time at a homeless mission, and I know first hand how very real all of what I’ve told you really is.
I have a bone to pick with you, Church (you – the one reading this article – not the 1st National Church of Divinity on the corner lot). If you think it’s okay to ignore the person holding the piece of cardboard with something scribbled on it, you’re wrong; it isn’t (don’t worry, I have my hand raised too. I’ve been guilty of this). I know how it goes. You see the homeless person standing at the corner, and the light turns yellow, then red too quickly, and you’re stuck at the light. Now it’s the task of trying not to make eye contact with this person. Otherwise, they may approach you and ask you for money. They probably want it for booze and cigarettes (0r worse), and I’m not going to give anyone any of my paycheck-to-paycheck income. I have bills to pay and kids to feed too, you know… Yep, I know. You can see how easily that scenario was typed on to this page. I completely understand, and you’re absolutely wrong.
My wife – Lindsey – and I were talking with our (then 6 and 7 year old) kids one day about God meeting needs. They had been memorizing Philippians 4:19. When my wife asked them how God meets the needs of others, we received a reply from our 7 year old son that we didn’t anticipate. You see, Lindsey and I are now in our 30’s. We’ve been around the Spiritual Block a few times. We know all of the “right” answers to give on any given topic. In this case, we would have said that God meets the needs through faith, prayer, miracles, hard work, etc. These are all of the “right” answers. My kids aren’t polluted with all of that yet, so Ryan gave a more honest (and correct in my opinion) answer to that question. When we asked, Ryan replied, “God uses people.”
Us 5 seconds later – staring at eachother: …
Us when it registered: Uh, yes!
God uses people to meet the needs of others. Do we pray, have faith, work hard, hope for a miracle? Absolutely, but in the end, it’s people that help in our time of need. We may have that miraculous check appear in our mailbox when we need it most, food may show up on our table, or our electric bill may get paid in full at just the right moment, but God didn’t hack the system and fudge the numbers to make any of that happen; people did it out of their own good will.
I’m rallying behind the homeless mothers with their children living in the parks of Philly awaiting the Pope’s arrival. I’m figuratively standing alongside my hairy/unbathed brothers crying out for humanity. Church (you – the one reading this article – not the 1st National Church of Divinity on the corner lot), it’s time to show Love to these people. It’s time to quit shirking your responsibilities to be Jesus to the least onto the shoulders of the government. It’s ridiculous that the government has to take a stand to be humanitarians at home because The Church (you – the one reading this article – not the 1st National Church of Divinity on the corner lot) refuses to do anything but ignore Her brothers and sisters. I don’t buy the stories anymore. I can’t sit back and listen to one more person say, “I can’t afford it” when they’re blowing $400/month on a car lease, $5/day on coffee, $100/month on TV service, and whatever other luxuries our paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle provides.
That’s not Jesus. Allow me to remind you who Jesus was. He “had no place to lie his head.” He said, “true religion is caring for the widows and the orphans.” He told the rich man to, “…go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Jesus wasn’t telling the rich man that money was bad. He was telling him that he cared more about his money than he did about others. Jesus wanted him to learn what it truly looked like to love someone more than himself, so he extended an invitation to the rich man; give your money to the least, and I’ll show a life filled with love. The rich man decided to stare at the red light waiting anxiously for it to turn green so he could drive away.
Since the majority of Americans identify with the Catholic faith, the Pope’s visit is a momentous occasion. The homeless community see it that way too, but they’re crying out for Pope Francis to use his voice to rebuke the Church (you – the one reading this article – not the 1st National Church of Divinity on the corner lot). They’re believing God to meet their needs through faith, prayer, miracles, hard work, etc., but the reality is – to say it as my son did – “God uses people.” Go be Love to them.