Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Peace begins with a smile: My friend Chris

I got back yesterday from my trip to DC for the March to Life. I didn't think so much hope could be restored in such a short amount of time. Over the few years of Pro-Life involvements I have been to my fair share of rallies & marches, but nothing compared to this past weekend.

St. Matthew's Cathedral
We did a lot of things during our trip and each of them, whether directly related to the Pro-Life movement, guided me to a feeling of comfort and hope. Saturday, my friend and I did a little bit of sightseeing. We planned to go to the Smithsonian but first we got coffee and headed over to St. Matthew's Cathedral. St. Matthew's is one of the churches I went to for daily Mass when I was in DC this past summer and it just has such a way to make you feel at home upon entering. When we got there, however, we were late for Mass. Outside the church was a homeless man asking for money. I asked if I could buy him lunch instead and so we went and got food for him and another man nearby and when we brought it back I asked the man if we could hang out with him while he ate. He answered, "well of course, darlin!"

Friday night before I went to bed I went into the chapel of the church we were staying in and invited the Holy Spirit into my heart. Saturday morning when I woke up I asked for a miracle or some form of spiritual blessing from God. After our time with my new friend, I don't doubt that God heard my prayers.

lit a candle for Chris
We sat down and began conversation with him and he was incredibly kind and charming. His wrinkled skin, weary eyes, and thin, patchy gray facial hair told me that he'd been having a rough time. His name was Chris. 12 years ago Chris beat kidney cancer- something he considers a miracle only God could've been capable of. Now, Chris only has one kidney and it is barely operational. Honestly, I was skeptical at first when he told us his story. He mentioned he was on dialysis before I went to get him food so I thought it must just be a way for him to try to get sympathy. However, the more into conversation we got with Chris the more I could see the honesty in his eyes. Chris, a 57 year old graduate of Catholic University of America, had won me over. This kindhearted man sitting on the steps in front of this beautiful Cathedral was battling some painful and exhausting medical conditions (he'd passed out the day before while undergoing his dialysis treatment) yet still, he was planning to attend the 5:00 Mass later that afternoon. He'd actually been confirmed in that very church nearly 4 decades earlier- just after he attended MLK's March on Washington. "I never thought I'd see the day but I surely did," he told us. His eyes had seen so much growing up and living in DC. I couldn't help but wonder how this man who'd received a good Catholic high school education and graduated from college with a promising degree had ended up outside asking for donations in freezing weather. After a while of talking we said goodbye to Chris but before that we joined hands and prayed together.
Mother Teresa & me at the Basilica
 When I walked inside the church I was in awe of God and how he chose to answer my prayer. Chris was the miracle He sent me. So often have I just walked past homeless people on the streets without really thinking about what life must be like for them. Often people tend to stereotype homeless men & women as alcoholics, and honestly I am one of those people to jump to conclusions sometimes because sometimes that is the sad truth, but this small encounter with Chris was like an encounter with Christ. When we prayed we all made the Sign of the Cross and when we asked for Mary's intercession we spoke the same words and in Chris' voice I heard true faith & sincerity. We really aren't that different at all. The only differences are that Chris hit a strand of "bad luck" and his faith can endure desperate times. I honestly don't know if I would speak of God as being merciful and loving after being through all he'd been through- even though I know that He is. His faith endures and that amazes me. In St. Matthew's I nearly cried while I prayed for Chris' healing and for restored connections with his family and for him to get back on his feet and sleep in a warm bed again. I bought Chris oatmeal but he gave me a smile and, as Mother Teresa said, peace begins with a smile. Chris gave me just the peace I needed. No matter what one's circumstances may be, where there is Life there is hope.

Being Pro-Life isn't just about loving babies. Being Pro-Life is about respecting all life- from conception until natural death and that is what we, as Christians, as believers, as non-believers, as human beings are called to do. I don't know anyone who understood this sentiment better than Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I admire her not because I am Catholic, although it does deepen my admiration of her in many respects, but simply as a kindhearted human being she took care of those who were forgotten by others. I think of what an impact this tiny little nun had on the world and have to wonder- what if there had been two Mother Teresas? What if there had been three? What if we all tried for one moment every day to love one another as she loved the most impoverished of people? What a world it would be.
Statue of Mother Teresa
at St. Matthew's Cathedral

"When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed." -Mother Teresa

I asked Chris if I could write to him somehow and he told me that the Monsignor at the Cathedral has helped him out a lot so I can direct mail to the Cathedral and they'll give it to him. Although I doubt I'll ever get any replies to any letters, I am looking forward to sending him a Rosary I got on a mission trip to New Orleans a few years ago. Not sure why but I really want him to have it.

It's crazy who and what God uses to wake me up and teach me how to love.




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