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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

News of the Apostolate: Onward And Upward

We are nearing the close of the dry season in Portland, and in some sense, the season of evangelization.  Though we'll still walk from November through February, the "sweet spot" for evangelization is March through October.  I remember walking last Winter with Chris.  We shrugged off head colds and bad weather, and we tried to get out and pray in the muck.  I remember wondering what the coming Spring would be like for the apostolate, whether there would be a big harvest.

Well, the harvest exceeded our hopes, and it was a dizzying season of evangelization.  Just as the world is lulled into quiet in Winter, only to burst with life in Spring, so went the apostolate.  First we met Meagan and watched in wonder at her multi-fold talents in evangelization and organization.  Then Jeff joined us and pretty soon we were following him in chanting the rosary in Latin.  Next we spread out into many new parts of the city as Archbishop Sample had prompted. Our friend Shawn started walking with us, and yesterday we were joined for the first time by another young man, Justin. We also have several friends of the apostolate in retirement (Dave, Tom and Willie).  We like to share ideas with them and ask for their prayers for our friends on the streets.

I'm having three new tunics made (sizes XL, L and M) since it seems like we'll need them.  We've also begun to take a serious look at starting our Jesus Caritas House.  It would be a place of hospitality, fellowship and prayer for our group and our friends on the street.  Some of our group would live there and share a common life of prayer.  We would meet at the house for fraternity, BBQs, book discussions, and whatever builds us up as men of faith.  Our friends on the street would be welcome to drop by and share a meal, pray and hang out with us, and we would help them in whatever way we are able.  In sum, it would be a place of deep prayer and radical hospitality.  Perhaps we might even open such a house in 12 months...

The Men's Conference we attended had some disappointing moments, but it ended on a high note (at least for the apostolate). There was a lot of talk at the conference about prayer, but since one of the speakers kept running over his allotted time then the Angelus and Divine Mercy chaplet were dropped from the schedule.  That was a terrible idea, not least because one of the plagues of the Church today is talk, talk talk.  That's why Cardinal Sarah wrote a book called, The Power of Silence. Also, conference talks are quickly forgotten, but what is not forgotten is when hundreds of men kneel and pray and adore the Eucharist together for an hour or more.  That is powerful, and that is what we should have done.  The same speaker also kept mistaking his right wing American sensibilities for "the faith once handed down".  A great deal of his talk was on self-defense, but not against the world the flesh and the Devil, but against addicts and ex-cons who might molest one's property or family.  But those are the very people with whom we spend our precious free time!  Maybe more Catholics should push past their anxiety and actually minister to the homeless, addicts and ex-cons? Isn't that the life of Beatitude and the will of God?

One of the beautiful parts of the conference was that people recognized us and mentioned that they've seen us on the streets.  The director of Mater Dei radio, Patrick Ryan, said that he's seen us many times, and that we are appreciated, especially by Fr. Boyle OSM at The Grotto.  I'm delighted, especially since we'd like to start our Jesus Caritas House near The Grotto.  I'm also proud of the fact that our efforts are appreciated by a diverse group of priests and laypeople.  We try to show by example that there's no tension between loving beautiful liturgy, prayer and Catholic tradition as well as loving and serving the most neglected.  That is what the saints have always done, including St. Francis and Blessed Charles de Foucauld.  May we always be an edifying and thought-provoking example to all we meet.  In fact, just yesterday we met a Dutch Jesuit priest near The Grotto who was traveling and on sabbatical.  He gathered us together and gave us his priestly blessing right there on NE 82nd.  Maybe he'll start a group like ours back in Holland?