Today a teenaged kid aged about 19 arrived on an overnight bus from Denver to Albuquerque, New Mexico to be with family after a period of time in his life in which his life unravelled into homelessness. He slept on a warm bus last night and snacked on food bought with his food stamps. He survived a night of homelessness which brought temperatures down to the single digits in Denver.
Yesterday, I was walking out of the cathedral to get a cup of coffee and a scone from Pablo’s it was the only 15 free minutes in a 12 hour day. I had the 15 minutes planned for the entire morning and was intent on taking the break the way Jesus in today’s gospel “set his face toward Jerusalem.” But as I turned the corner to leave through our lobby, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a man walking away from me down the hallway to the cathedral church with a massive backpack. I asked about him and was told he was homeless.
I stopped and needed to have a small conversation with myself about whether or not I would get my 15 minute break. We, my conscience, my vocation and I, decided I would not. I headed down that long hallway to the church. In the darkness created by stained glass on a day in which snow clouds were gathering for a night of record cold, a kid sat halfway back on a pew with his massive backpack on the seat beside him. He was bent over with his head on the pew in front of him. I sat on that pew in front of him and gently introduced myself. “My name is Charles.” He smelled bad.
In time, he lifted his head to exhibit the tear-streaked face of a very young man. His grief was real and it was honest. Because I maintain a prayer life, I was able to easily discern that he was telling the truth. Or the Holy Spirit told me. Or both.
Expecting to hear about a death in his family, I asked him ‘What’s going on in your life?” He said “I am homeless. Tonight will be cold. I do not want to die.” I had to re-group as I felt my eye fill with tears. I bit my lip and my hand squeezed my knee.
After a short story about abuse and manipulation he came to the point. “In this city, being poor is against the law. It is against the law to hitchhike and it is too cold to walk to route 25 without getting frostbite. It is against the law to set up my tent – and if I do, I will die of cold in the night. I just need to get to my family in Albuquerque. I can get back on my feet with them. ”
Tears began again. “I do not want to die tonight.” he said.
I noticed that in his hands was a prayerbook with his finger in a page. I asked him what he was reading. He said “I opened this book up to this.” He showed me the page. He had opened the book up to the page of prayers for a person on their deathbed.
“Does this mean I am going to die tonight? Is it a sign?” he asked me. “No.” I said, fighting back my emotions. “Here.” I said, as I took the prayerbook, gently, like taking a grenade from the hands of a suicide bomber. And I found him the 120th Psalm. “Read this while I get to a ticket on a bus to Albuquerque. “Do you need a restaurant card? I have one for City of City” (my favorite restaurant). “No, he said. I have food stamps.” Michelle did the typing on Greyhound’s website like an angel playing the harpsichord for dancing angels. One could feel their wings move the air in the room.
It occurred to me this morning as I imagined him getting off that warm bus alive that every dollar I raise saves Xavier’s life. Every email Michelle types, saves Xavier’s life. Every chair Ian moves saves Xavier’s life. Every prelude Stephen plays saves Xavier’s life. Every confirmation Bishop Rob does saves Xavier’s life. Every mass Peter says saves Xavier’s life. Every sandwich Martha makes save Xavier’s life. Every memo Robert sends saves Xavier’s life. Every pledge and act of kinds done by a parishioner here saves Xavier’s life. Every hospital visit Jadon, Elizabeth Marie and Liz make saves Xavier’s life.
Being the church is that important. A young man will live and move and have his being because he came to our cathedral and we helped him. And that, and only that, gives our liturgy meaning.