Blessed Odo's is aptly named. This parish is not named after St Odo of Cluny, but after Blessed Odo of Cambrai. So, we do not even rise to the level of a capital “S” saint, merely a blessed, which seems very appropriate for a humble parish. Blessed Odo's is not small in size and property but meek in affect and enormous of heart. Blessed Odo's is in a depressed neighborhood with an active transient and homeless population, surrounded by section 8 housing. Our grounds are open and a kind of oasis where a number of homeless people take advantage of the green trees and relatively safe atmosphere. It seems absolutely fitting that a church would be a safe island in the midst of so much hopelessness. That sounds poetic and beautiful in print, but in reality it is quite messy and time-consuming. We feed them and allow some of them to spend the night if they don't cause trouble and follow our directions. One rule is that they must leave the grounds at sunrise. Hopefully, this will give the reader enough background for what followed after the morning Mass of Scolding, of which I wrote previously.
Immediately after the Mass ended, I walked into the office to be met by frowning secretaries: “One of the homeless was walking toward the chapel as I drove in this morning.” “Yes. There are shopping carts all over the place.” chimed in another secretary. “Someone really needs to do something about this.” Both looked at me, and we all knew exactly who the someone was. I turned on my heel, went into my office and hung up my vestments. And then went out directly toward the chapel to do some scolding of my own.
I reached the chapel garden and saw Jane, one of our regulars, trying to manage a full shopping cart and a bicycle. She saw me and smiled, “I was just coming to look for you, 'cause I have a question.”
“Oh?” My scolding balloon was loosing air.
“Yes” She replied. “I have some Bible questions for you.”
“Oh?” I repeated. My scolding scenario was now overturned and frantically working to upright itself.
She took me to the armor of God passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians in her new Bible that one of our deacons had given her. “I sometimes get angry with God” She said, “I don't know why he lets people suffer like this. He doesn't seem to care, but I know I must have faith, right? I try to practice that, but it is difficult sometimes.”
“Yeah, whatever.” I replied coldly. “Get you and your crap off of the church property. You know the rules!” Was that what I was supposed to say? Well, I didn't say that. Who could? Instead, I shared the Gospel with her, and I prayed with her. Prayed that she would find the inner-tube for her bicycle; prayed that God would increase her faith; prayed that the Lord would give her comfort and peace; prayed that God would give her understanding as she read her Bible; prayed that God would heal her feet and provide new shoes for her.” And then gently reminded her that she was supposed to be off the property in the morning, but she could rest her feet and get her stuff organized first. Should I have demanded even that? I don't know. It seems to me that we all need motivation to keep moving.
I came back into the office, and got the well-what-happened look from the secretaries. I told the story and then concluded (dramatically), “I told her to leave.” With the unspoken thought, “that's what you wanted, right?” Well, of course that's not what they wanted, when presented like that. Our secretaries are wonderful, loving women, who desire the Lord's grace for all. In fact they continually go out of their way to help people.
That's how we all are. That's how I am. We are quite ready to confront someone else, or to accuse someone else, but if we get face to face with them and hear their stories, our self-righteousness just melts away. We are face to face with a person, not a problem. And once we see that person as a person rather than as a problem, the encounter is much less likely to be an angry confrontation. Don't we see that in Jesus? Sure he confronted people, but he always treated them as people, not as obstacles to get past.
Note: This is a somewhat fictionalized retelling of a real event. A little liberty was taken for the sake of emphasis, and to keep private the identities of those involved. Beyond that, the basic story is true. See "Secretaries Validated" for the rest of the story.