Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jessica's Story and Mine

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to the Christian faith is to peacefully accept everything God puts in our lives, and to praise Him with a simple heart through trial and change.  Most of us get shipwrecked by questioning God's providence, and losing faith and hope (and finally, divine charity) amidst trial and suffering.  Jesus gives us, in His own life, the antidote to losing our way, and that is to empty ourselves out in the Desert or on the Cross, to become poor as He once did.  Jesus has spent the last six months or more showing me my poverty, and making me poorer still.  I think it's starting to work.  We resist it, especially us Americans, but eventually humility takes root in the soul for those who keep coming back to Christ.  Eventually we let God be God, and resign ourselves that we are just creatures, albeit His creation invited to "partake in His Divine Nature".  Glory be to God.

Looking back on the last 6-7 months, one episode stands out for signaling the Dark Night that was to come.  While a Dark Night is actually a necessary and blessed grace, I've often wondered, "How did I get to this point?"  Then I always come back to the person of Jessica.  Chris and I first met Jessica along SE 82nd about a year ago.  She was walking along by herself in tiny shorts and had a noticeable limp.  She gratefully accepted our Gatorade, and then explained that her leg was grotesquely swollen because whomever had given her the last hit of heroin was bad with a needle or there were too many impurities in the dope.  We saw her again the next week with a group of addicts, and she tested us by asking if we remembered her name.  Everyone was silent and expectant, as I fumbled about in my brain, but it seemed I would fail the test.  The mood began to fall fast.  Then I heard a subdued voice behind me say, "Jessica."  I turned and pointed triumphantly at Chris, "Yes, he's got it!"  Thank God for Chris!  From that point on we earned the trust of Jessica and the circle of addicts.  That was also the time we met Troy, the young Christian man who became homeless by choice. Troy always stayed close to Jessica and looked out for her, though since he was new to the streets, she had to look out for him, too.  It was easy to see why Troy had a soft spot for her: she was honest and an open book, and they were about the same age.  Please read about Troy here.

We always saw Jessica when we walked SE 82nd, and sometimes I would bring she and her friends Popeye's chicken or pizza.  Her leg began to get worse and then it slowly got better.  I gradually learned more of her story.  She was from Milwaukie, Oregon where it was "much harder to be homeless" due to police harassment, and so she was grateful to have found 82nd.  She had a four year old that she had left behind with her mother, and had no idea where the boy's father was at this point.  They had started out on meth and moved up to heroin.  She had never prostituted though she usually hung out with other users, where there was a lot of "sharing" (to use a euphemism).  Then something changed. Jessica got tired of "jonesing" for dope and decided to prostitute.

The first time I noticed this I was driving by with my little children and so I couldn't stop to talk with her.  My soul cried out in pain, "No!  I have to do something about this!"  Troy couldn't take it either, and so he left and I haven't see him since.  I saw Jessica again the next evening, grotesquely painted up with make-up, and with her swollen leg and all.  I raced home to drop off my children and grabbed my tunic and some money I had gotten from my ATM the evening before.  I put the tunic on while I drove and prayed that I would make it back in time.  I spotted her down by the cheap motels and found a place to park. She had disappeared from sight, and I searched about with determination, ignoring everyone around me. Then I saw her. She was about to drive off with a dope dealer in his early 50s.  I immediately recognized his type from my time in prison and before.  He had once been roguishly good looking, but it's a hard lifestyle.  He even had a "souped up" older model BMW that had seen better days.  Yeah, I knew what he was all about.  Jessica saw me, and asked in surprise, "What are you doing here?"  I instinctively held up the money, and said, "Looking for you."  Her eyes were sad. She pleaded, "Why didn't you come sooner?"  Then there was an opening in traffic and the dealer sped off.

I haven't seen Jessica since and that was over six months ago.  She probably became the live-in girlfriend of the dealer since she was young and clean enough to suit him.  That kind of thing is common enough.  Perhaps she has overdosed and died as have so many young people nowadays.  In any event, I can not save her, nor has God given me that mandate.  She is always in the loving gaze of the Father, and He has a perfect plan for her if only she'll accept His plan of salvation.  I'm positive that His plan does not involve me giving her money to subsidize her drug habit if only she won't prostitute.  I had not done that before and I have not thought of doing it since.  At the time I didn't care whether it was ethical or not, I just felt I HAD TO DO SOMETHING.  But it's not my world and I'm not in charge.  At the time I resented God for once more tearing out my heart and stomping on it.  I declared to God in the depths of my soul, "I can't do this! You're killing me!" From then on I started to walk the streets with a harder heart, with less innocence, with occasional swearing and a grim sense of humor.  Then the Dark Night began to fall right on time.

I've since understood that we are precisely called to open our hearts so that they are wounded.  We are called to open our hearts to our suffering brothers and sisters, just as Jesus exposes His pierced Sacred Heart.  It is a sacrifice pleasing to God, and it is sharing in His divine life.  It is also painful.

Here comes the pain...
Sometimes we are wounded by love and it is a beautiful thing.  Just the other day at the grocery store I ran into a neighbor I often see but have never spoken to.  She's a seventy year old Ukrainian immigrant woman who dresses like a peasant from the Old World.  Her son has Down syndrome, a perpetually twisted hand, and lives at home.  He likes to sweep the sidewalks and driveways.  He is well-looked after.  I made eye contact with the old woman and smiled.  She smiled back with the clear, pure eyes of the holy ones.  For an instant, her square, gray face became beautiful with divine life.  I looked away and began to weep from witnessing the divine beauty within this faithful mother.  I hid my tears from the public but I was grateful that my heart was now soft and open to God's ways, open to His Plan.  Glory be to God.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Still Kickin'

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, and that's because I've been undergoing a period of spiritual dryness and temptation dating back to before Advent.  It's not pleasant to be purified by our Lord, to have every dark nook and cranny of your soul exposed to yourself, but it's certainly necessary.  During the worst moments I think, "Sheesh, I wouldn't wish this on any one!"  But we know it's actually a blessing.  Nevertheless, the last thing you feel like doing is writing about spiritual things, if for no other reason than you feel like a complete phony.  I certainly didn't know myself as well as I thought.  Just before the worst of it I was telling Shawn that by God's grace He had made me solid as a rock and able to handle anything that came my way.  Ha ha, what arrogance!  God did remove His grace, and I found myself as pliable as Jello.  He even took away my faith for a while (I don't mean to say I doubted that Jesus was Lord, or that demons existed--of course not).  If God means to strip you down, He can really do a thorough job!

All of this purification was necessary because this is a very difficult apostolate.  We walk amidst the Devil's handiwork, and we witness a tremendous amount of human suffering.  We also witness tremendous grounds for hope, as this blog has catalogued over the years.  Jesus' point in all of this is that we have to completely surrender to Him.  We have to make Him our rock, and to expose our hearts to compassionate suffering as He exposes His Sacred Heart.  Our strength then comes through our weakness to Him, by surrendering to Him.  The last thing he wants is for me to walk the streets in the same tough way I used to walk around prison cellblocks.  I've been guilty of that lately.

Speaking of prison, I gave a talk today at a prison ministry conference at Mt. Angel Abbey.  Archbishop Sample spoke as well, and I was very gratified by his authenticity and balance.  He's just "real" in every sense, and has a deep and wide-ranging worldview.

The conference was an unqualified hit.  I was extremely gratified and humbled to meet the hidden saints of the Church, those men and women who have done prison ministry for decades with little or no reward or acclaim.  So many of them have those clear, luminescent eyes that reveal the temple of the Holy Spirit.

I also made many new contacts, and probably met at least five permanent deacons.  Some of the seminarians expressed interest in walking the streets with us in Portland.  Some of their training consists in hands-on ministries like our own, and hopefully we will hear from their coordinator soon. I also spoke to a deacon who asked if we would help the new Salem chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization once they are ready to hit the streets.  I am happy to drive down and provide moral support.  Whatever gets them over the hump and on to the streets!

Finally, I met a woman at the conference who just happened to have three-hundred pairs of thick socks from Costco that she was looking to give away.  The children at her parish, St. Michael's in Olympia, Washington, had collected more than she could distribute, and she was happy to give them to us.  It was a clear work of grace--we had even parked right next to each other without knowing it.

We are almost out of socks, and the socks I had been buying are no longer in season at Costco.  Now we have a fresh supply for Spring.  The woman also put me in contact with a recently re-leased ex-con who misses being in prison.  That may sound crazy to most people, but I had a few prison buddies who felt that way once they were released.  This young man, Gerald, came of age in prison, much like I did, and he misses his prison buddies and the stability and status of being a "solid con" in "the joint".  I did a brief stretch in the prison where he did nine years (Shelton).  Hopefully we will make a connection and I will be of some use to him.

As soon as I get clearance, I will be spending one Sunday a month at Oregon State Penitentiary, and a couple of the guys might join me.  We won't be able to walk the streets that day, but it's a worthy use of our time.  I will be honored to witness the Holy Sacrifice and receive the Eucharist at a "hard time" prison.  While such prisons seem God-forsaken in so far as they are stripped of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (this was actually the subject of my talk), we know that Jesus is actually uniquely present amidst the most desolate situations.  In fact, this is the test of our faith, whether we truly believe and then see Christ at work in the most painful situations.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Soul of the Apostolate

We've been blessed with an unusually dry late Fall and early Winter, and so I've been able to walk the streets three times each week. Sometimes there are six of us with rolling coolers, praying along SE 82nd, or four of us fighting the wind up Division Street, or sometimes just Meagan and I along NE Broadway. A few things have suffered as a result.  My wallet has suffered as we seek to do our small part in alleviating the physical sufferings of those living on the streets in Winter. My prayer life has suffered as I succumb to a spirit of busyness as well as a genuinely full schedule.  And lastly, the blog has suffered as spiritual dryness and time constraints have taken their toll.  I miss writing, but writing takes leisure and that has been in short supply as the apostolate has begun to take on the features of a small organization.
Justin & Jonathan discuss homeless services
with a man along SE 82nd

Speaking of leisure, I have repeatedly offered to God my leisure time as a sacrifice if only He would do something to shake Portland out of her faithlessness.  I have often said, "Lord, I will give up every moment of time to myself for the rest of my life if only you will wake this city."  That may seem like a strange sacrifice, but leisure is the very life-blood of the life of the mind, and the arts.  Good books and beautiful art feed the soul, though not so well as prayer does.  Prayer also takes leisure time, and I am willing to sacrifice some of my closeness with God.  Blessed Titus Brandsma lived in a whirlwind of practical activity and writing, even though he was a Carmelite.  It seemed that God required him to sacrifice a deeper life of prayer for the sake of his other callings.  Finally, after the Nazis imprisoned him in Dachau, he was at last able to pray in the way he had always desired.  His soul drank in the sweetness of communion with God even in that cesspool of malice and violence.

Sometimes our apostolate begins to resemble only an outreach on the streets, complete wth the corporal works of mercy.  That sounds like a fine thing, but it isn't enough.  At those times the Holy Spirit intervenes, and I am reminded once again that prayer is the soul of the apostolate.  I may not have much time for deep prayer at home, but we must pray as we walk together.  Prayer elicits grace as we share in the life of God.  Without prayer, my supernatural hope and charity will shrivel like a prune.  Without prayer, fewer graces will flow to all of those who've chosen to live far from God (even though He remains so close!).  With prayer, we walk in grace with Christ who alone can do all things.  Without prayer, we have only ourselves and our weakness, our merely "natural" hope and love.  Those won't do much good for what we've been called to.  One of our guys, Nick, put together a little prayer and chant booklet for us on our walks.  We will use it religiously.

A final thought.  Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has a must-read article on these issues, provocatively titled, "Confronting the Heresy of Activism with the Primacy of Prayer".

Behind a 7/11 frequented by prostitutes and "Johns", Justin taught Michael the rosary.
Shawn and Chris join in for a final prayer.  Michael is a humble man who struggles with
schizophrenia.  A woman once told him he is a protector just like the holy angel Michael.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Radio Interview, Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with Patrick Ryan on The Thirsty Catholic Show.  Pat and I had an enjoyable lunch over soul food and bbq.  Pat's the kind of guy that Jesus set aside from the beginning of time to feed the faithful of today and to re-build the Church of tomorrow.  I am continually gratified when I meet faithful and zealous men like Pat Ryan.

Lately I've been doing a lot of meetings and outreach to the local church to seek advice and counsel on the future of the apostolate.  I've completed all of the paperwork to submit our 501c3 non-profit paperwork, though I won't file unless I hear from a certain local Catholic philanthropist.  It seemed God and Blessed Charles kept directing me to this good man, and so I reached out to him and him alone.  God's will be done.

Meagan and I are going to walk with Brian Willis of Global Health Promise on Monday.  Brian has dedicated his life to helping women and children who are victims (or potential victims) of the sex-trafficking trade.  Brian has done research and set up programs in places like Uganda and Cambodia, and has a local initiative as well, called Our Mother's House. Obviously we have met and befriended many prostitutes, and so we are happy to collaborate with Brian in any way we can.  Brian is seeking female volunteers to staff Our Mother's House.  Contact myself or Brian if you are potentially interested.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Celebrating the Feast Day of Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Today is the 101st anniversary of the day that Brother Charles of Jesus was murdered outside of his little monastery fort in the Sahara.  In commemoration of his feast day, we attended mass and then walked up NE Broadway, meeting some old friends and making some new ones as well.

I was on Mater Dei radio this evening giving an interview about the apostolate.  You can listen to the first part of the interview here, while the second part will air at 7:30pm PST next Friday.  I found it ironic that Blessed Charles is famous for imitating Jesus' "hidden life of Nazareth", and there I am on the radio in a penultimately public forum on his feast day. In fact, I have often wondered how we fit into the large and geographically diverse "spiritual family" of Blessed Charles. Brother Charles wanted the lowest and most hidden place, and yet we are a very visible presence in the city.  He wanted to imitate Jesus at Nazareth, and yet we sometimes seem closer to imitating Jesus in his public ministry.  Yet we don't preach and we certainly don't work miracles.  Although sometimes we beg for miracles!  In any event, we didn't choose Blessed Charles, but he chose us.  He must know what he's doing, and he's even reinforced that call in recent months.

Blessed Charles of Jesus, pray for us!
Beati Caroli a Iesu, ora pro nobis!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pray For Those We Meet

I've added a new link to the side bar of the blog.  It's a list of all the significant encounters that we've had since the apostolate began.  We try to keep a list of our memorable encounters so that we might remember to pray for them, offer little sacrifices and commend them to Jesus during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Now I've made the list public so that our readers might pray for them, too.  I strongly encourage you to offer them up to the Father of Mercies as you are able.

Just in the last week we've witnessed enough suffering and filth to stun the mind.  That kind of suffering brings a stark choice before the mind: either Jesus is the suffering messiah who redeemed our fallen state through his superabundant sacrifice or our lives are ultimately meaningless.  Nothing else makes sense: certainly not other religions or secularist attempts to "re-found" human meaning post-Christianity.  Only orthodox Christianity has a true and beautiful answer for the problem of suffering.  This was clear to me after Chris discovered an elderly homeless woman hiding under a shopping cart and blanket.  It didn't appear that a person could be under the cart and the flat, rumpled blanket, but Chris insisted he saw a hand.  I knelt down and saw the poor woman on the cold pavement.  Her face was swollen and her eyes were full of fear.  She wasn't afraid of me, but of the world outside her tiny encampment.  She wouldn't even give me her name, saying "What does it matter?"  She gladly accepted the warmest wool socks we had and just wanted to be left alone.  She shivered the whole time I spoke to her, wracked with physical and mental anguish.

"Jesus the Homeless" sculpture.  Notice the pierced feet.

I thought I was beyond being shocked, but I suppose it is a grace that I haven't become numb to miserable things.  Just the day before, Shawn and I met a twenty-year old prostitute named 'Rachel' at 7/11, and had to watch as a skeletal seventy year old man picked her up in his brand new SUV.  We watched them settle on a price and "services" in the parking lot of the Social Services building as we listened to a Hispanic man, Richard, tell us about his near death experiences. Rachel had dropped her sweatshirt in the parking lot, and I went and picked it up as a pretext for talking with them.  I gave the sweatshirt to Rachel and was surprised that the old man acknowledged me and spoke.  "What is that?" he asked, gesturing at the tunic.   "It's the Sacred Heart of Jesus."  "No, not that.  I mean what are you doing out there? Are you a pastor?"  I could tell by an inflection in his voice that he thought pastor-types were self-righteous and full of pride, so I offered, "No, I'm just a schmuck who walks around and talks to people."  At that point Rachel put her finger on the window control and gave me a look as if to say, "Okay, bye."  She rolled up the window and the car backed up fifteen yards.

Rachel emerged a couple minutes later from the car, and I studied her face as I sat with Shawn and Richard.  Her face was flushed, and fighting off an underlying sense of trauma and disgust.  Some of her young friends had just shown up, and she submerged her misery and waved the money in the air, shouting, "He paid good money!"  Her friend, an attractive young Hispanic girl, wondered if he had more, but the skeletal old man was done for the day.

Shawn had shot me darting glances after the SUV had backed up and wondered why we didn't break up the liaison.  It would have soothed our moral outrage for a moment, but then there would have been another "John" just as soon as we left.  God honors our freedom even when we are destroying ourselves, although I wish the police had shown up. Sometimes God sends us messengers to bring us back from the brink.  While Rachel was in the SUV, Richard told us of the time he tried to hang himself from a punching bag chain.  As he put the rope around his neck he began to see "little babies" flying past his feet, back and forth.  Shawn and I recognized them as angelic Cherubim.  The Cherubim were silent, but were a sign that God is ever-present.  God was also present to Richard when a car he was repairing fell on him at the age of sixteen.  God was present when Richard chose drugs and the convict lifestyle, when he went to prison, and now, as he struggles with alcoholism.  Richard has a deep faith, and he can talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit until the sun sets.  I told him that God probably spared him twice because He wants him to be a messenger of the Gospel and care for people like Rachel.  Richard knows this.  Shawn and I also tried to be messengers to Rachel.  We doted on her, offering her wool socks, a rosary, Gatorade, etc.  When she dropped her wallet and the contents spilled everywhere, I hastened to gather them up.  We tried to show her that she matters, that she's known and deserving of care and respect.  We pray that she will understand that one day, and bask in the loving light of her Savior.

Please join us and pray for our friends on the streets.  Allow yourself to be wounded by their suffering, just as the Heart of Jesus is beaten and bruised by the misery of His poor children.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sad News

"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
                                                                                            Gospel of John, 15:13

This weekend we lost a friend of the apostolate, and a true son of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  Deacon Patrick Logsdon was murdered by one of the ex-convicts he faithfully ministered to for over thirty-three years at Anthony House, a transitional home on Long Island, New York.  Deacon Pat took on the hardest cases, and invited men who served twenty years or more in the roughest prisons to come live with him.  I was not surprised to learn that the good deacon preferred to sleep on the floor, and had no real possessions to speak of.  His life was prayer and the men he loved with a wily love (no fool was he).

Anthony House, Long Island

I only spoke to him once over a two hour phone conversation.  He sought me out because Blessed Charles de Foucauld had sought us both out, and because I was an ex-con.  In that conversation I understood the immense need for good Catholic men to be out on the streets, and that only an army of such men could begin to meet the need that is out there. Deacon Pat certainly did his part, and I find it telling that he died at his home, among those whom he had set about to save, just like Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  I wish I could post a photo of Deacon Pat, but he wasn't the kind of guy who posted photos of himself online.  I do know that Deacon Pat would want us to pray for the soul of his killer, so please pray for Andre Patton. We don't want any of those Christ redeemed to be lost.

Matthew Manint, another friend of the apostolate and a close friend of Deacon Pat, just wrote a reflection on a traditional requiem mass a day before Deacon Pat's death.  It was a mass full of consolations and wonders from God, surely because God knew he was about take Matthew's friend.  I would encourage you to read Matthew's thoughts about our cry of "Kyrie Eleison", and Christ's response of giving Himself completely to us in the Eucharist.

Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.