In too many cities, the homeless are asked to leave buildings if it is cold outside. They wander around shops to keep warm or loiter in waiting rooms to stay out of the cold. Even some churches and chapels ask them to leave if other visitors or customers feel “uncomfortable.” When the creative director for the church posted a picture of a homeless man reading a newspaper and lounging on the bench in a church’s reception area, he couldn’t have predicted what the man was going to say.
I sat down next to him and asked if he wanted to join me for the service. ‘This is my third Mass today,’ he said, ‘I’ll stay out here. The music, it heals me.’ I asked what needed healing. He pulled up his pant cuff & revealed the skin on his legs, which looked like cracked leather, battered by the cold and wind. ‘My name is Stephen. Like the Stephen in the Bible, who was stoned. Sometimes in the cold, it feels like I’m getting hit by rocks too,’ he chuckled.
Stephen did not have money for a dermatologist & produced a well used, almost empty bottle of over-the-counter medicinal lotion from his worn backpack. ‘This helps but it’s expensive,’ he said. I gave Stephen my offering plate money and we said a prayer. In that moment, a police officer walked into the church and headed toward Stephen. Stephen instinctively sat up straight and prepared to get hassled. I prepared to tell the officer that this man was causing no harm. The cop stood before Stephen, reached into his gym bag and handed him a brand new Columbia jacket, saying ‘Stay warm.’ Stephen thanked the officer and with a beaming smile, replaced his worn, dingy jacket with the new. I returned to Mass, knowing I no longer need to pray for a miracle, I had already witnessed one.”
Not one, but two people gave this man the benefit of the doubt that day. While there are many stories of the homeless being harassed or shooed away, there are more and more stories surfacing of the homeless being given a helping hand. If we all help the struggling members of our community, one day, they may all end up living the lives they have dreamed about instead of keeping warm in the grocery store and being judged by others.
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