I can’t feel my face.
Am I frozen? I was woken up by the sound of the guys packing their gear. Could it be morning already?
I have no idea how cold it had gotten overnight. The only part of me exposed from my mummy sack was my face. It felt like my cheeks were frozen, but the rest of me was nice and toasty. Do I have to get up?
I noticed a steady stream of guys walking one by one to the “bathroom”. I resigned myself to the reality that I’d have to go too. So, I got up and walked over. I can’t say that I followed Mike’s advice well because I was struck by the sign at eye level which read, “monitoring in effect”. Oh my! Am I being watched in this most compromising position? My head frantically searched the sides of the buildings. If there were cameras, I couldn’t see them. Oh well! Time to push off!
I packed my gear and joined a very quiet procession of guys. I had no idea where we were going. All I knew was that we were on the move. Our two other groups who’d broken off from us last night somehow found us and rejoined us on our quiet march uptown. At last we arrived at a 7-Eleven. Mike said he was buying coffee for all of us. Snuffy stuffed some money into Mike’s hand to help pay for the coffee. What? A couple of homeless guys are going to buy coffee for all 17 of us? I couldn’t believe it, but they insisted. We were, after all, their guests. Well that’s a great way to start the day – letting homeless guys buy me coffee! Would I like a dash of humility with that?
After coffee, Mike led us up to the University Methodist Church. He said they’d be serving breakfast to the homeless today. Sure enough, more and more men and women of all ages began arriving in the parking lot. We used the opportunity to say our morning prayers in the parking lot. It was such a great blessing to me to be praying with all these men outdoors in a public place! Even some of the homeless joined in!
Once the doors opened and once I was inside I was struck by the efficiency of it all. They would probably serve several hundred or more people this morning. The line of homeless snaked around the perimeter of the cafeteria where different stations, like coffee, juice and food, were set up. You got what you needed then grabbed a seat. There was even a station of books. Some homeless returned books that they’d borrowed and others took books. The saddest thing I saw as the stack of children’s books. Yes, sad as it is, kids are homeless too.
After breakfast we made our way to Church Under the Bridge where a live concert was starting. Yep, people come to minister to the homeless in various ways, including through music. Nice! On the way we met Chris. Chris is a self-appointed Catholic missionary to the homeless. I was struck by how well educated he was. He was also very clean for a homeless man. He has a camp set up somewhere in town. He chose to give up his life to live and work with the homeless. On our way another homeless came up to him and asked for some change for coffee. Without hesitation, Chris pulled out some change and handed it to the homeless, looked him in the eyes and said, “for coffee, ok?”
He was preaching to us about the importance of confession and mass, and how we can look to the saints to help us live better lives. Finally one of our guys told him that we were all preparing for the diaconate. Chris stopped in his tracks with a look of admiration on his face. He praised God right there on the street and shook each of our hands. I was a little overwhelmed. Could we mean so much to other people? Chris left us after a little while then and said he’d pray for us.
We hung out at the concert for a bit, but I was eager to get to the Cathedral in time for confession. Now I didn’t have a watch so I didn’t know how much time I had. One of the homeless told me that if I wanted to know the time, all I had to do is read a parking meter. Huh? Curious, I went over to a parking meter. Of course! The city installed digital meters and all the meters display the time! Neat! Once I checked the time I realized I needed to get on the move. I told the guys I was heading for the Cathedral. Several decided to come with me and so we set off.
After a nice long walk through town, we finally arrived and to my pleasant surprise many of the guys were arriving as well. We’d separated again after Chris left us, but within a few minutes, we were all together at the Cathedral. After confessions, mass began and this is the part I really want to share. So, we’re a group of 15 deacon aspirants plus 2 sons plus our shepherds. We’re attending mass, though not all sitting together. We were scattered around the nave of the church. I had no idea what the readings for the day were. And then I heard the First Reading.
“At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith,”(Acts 6:1-7).
Now for those who don’t know, this is the scriptural basis for deacons. Talk about a God moment! I don’t think a single one of us had dry eyes. Here we were on a random retreat. We weren’t required to come to this particular weekend. We could have gone to one of the other weekends earlier in the year. The retreats are not limited to deacon aspirants so it’s not like this was staged for our benefit. But as it happened, the majority of my class were here on this retreat; on this weekend trying to discern God’s will for our lives and what do we hear? God’s word about the first deacons! To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement!
I had to wonder what more does God has in store for us this weekend because I was emotionally spent? What more do we need to see and learn? Who else would touch our lives this day?
But that is another story.