The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Simple Voice of Hope

Saint Michael the Archangel Parish is a small, historic, Catholic church on Fourth Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon. Within its hundred-plus-year-old, red brick walls one finds a beautiful place to worship. And while her predominantly Italian congregation strives to raise the money to renovate her interior which has aged for the most part gracefully, her mission of serving the homeless and the poor a simple meal at lunch remains a mainstay that keeps the spirit of this church renewed.

When time allows, I attend the 12:05pm mass during my lunch hour as do many of the office workers of downtown. This is one of the few parishes in Portland, perhaps the only one, that offers the sacrament of reconciliation every day from 11:30am to Noon. At Noon, the old bell tolls to call all to mass, and those gathered inside already rise and pray the Angeles together concluding with the prayer to St. Michael.

At the end of mass, father greets the faithful outside the front doors to wish them a good day. As one descends the curved stairs that take one to the sidewalk of Fourth Street, one has to briefly walk amidst some of the very people who need the love and service mentioned during the concluding rite of mass when father commands, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."

Some sit, some stand, many lean. They are the least of our brothers, and those who have just received the body or Christ are suddenly juxtaposed with those who will soon receive the love of Christ from the volunteers of St. Michael's who feed them a lunch time meal. It's nearly impossible not to feel a little unworthy to have so recently received such a blessed gift of Eucharist, and then nonchalantly stride past these souls who appear to be in more need of what one has just received. Knowing that the angels of St. Michael's parish will feed them eases the conscience but does not dim the reality.

Mostly, the only communication between these poor and the nourished exiting mass are kind glances and an occasional smile. Rarely do any of those waiting in line for meal beg the mass goers for money. It seems to be some kind of unwritten rule.

The other day as I was coming down those stairs, I overheard part of conversation between two homeless women sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the doors of the lunch room to open. The one talking looked to be in her mid-forties. Something she said with a slight optimistic lilt in her voice has haunted me these last few days.

"The only thing that gives me hope is that this can't go on forever. One day I will die and this will all be over."

There are volumes of catechesis in her simple statement. This life cannot go on forever. No matter how good it is or how desperate, eventually it does end. I don't know where in her faith journey this woman was, but it sounded like she at the very least knew it would be better on the other side. Her simple voice of hope proclaimed that the ultimate answer to life would not be found in this existence, and at that moment, I believe she was closer to Christ then me and good many of the daily communicants who walked past her and returned to their offices.

Blessed are the poor.


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