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Ubi Caritas Et Amor (Et Aliqua Culpa), Deus Ibi Est

Thursday was a great day. On Thursday, I went to the thesis defense lunch of a very good friend. She did great and it was nice sitting around so many other nerds and geeks. I missed the defense due to train issues...but I was still in good spirits, After this, I went to see my old laboratory and managed to catch up with old colleagues and my old thesis advisor. Again, I was in great spirits. I went to mass that night...it was celebrated by a bishop and the mass was absolutely beautiful...filling my heart as well as my soul with powerful sense of what it means to be Catholic during the Triduum.  I had felt Christ calling me to be with him. I could feel his presence in the Eucharist. I could see him washing the feet of his apostles when the bishop knelt down to wash the feet of those lucky few up in the front. I felt a deep yearning for Christ in the Eucharist. Yet I could not respond because it had been such a long time since I had gone to confession and I most certainly did not deserve him. I waited until the end of mass and plucked up the courage to hunt down one of the padres as, little by little, they started clearing up the church and turning off all the lights. 

I broke down and cried, and mustered up the courage to track down one of the priests. I finally found myself before a priest, crying like a child and asking him to confess me...okay...maybe I was begging between sobs. I could barely even speak due to the separation from Christ that I had been experiencing. It was one of those moments when a padre looks at one of their parishioners and sees that they need to make an exception. I didn't even have to explain my irregular and 100% all-consuming PhD schedule had made me unable to make it to any of the Sacrament of Reconciliation times. He simply told me to wait outside on a pew until for him to come out. He  must have known how much I needed this, because even when I tried to chicken out...he remained silent, waiting for my confession once we were in the confession booth. Finally, I gave in and did a quick confession...that was still pretty thorough. It was nothing like the hour-long take-your-time confessions that I normally like having with the padres...but it certainly healed me. 

My penance was to pray before the Eucharist for 5 minutes. At first, this seemed like no big deal. I had been to Adoration quite a few times before...so 5 minutes before Christ would be like letting me off the hook. On any other day, praying before Christ would be a fantastic spiritual treat. Therefore, it seemed so strange that this priest would allow me to experience such a beautiful thing instead of penance. However, once my knees hit the floor, my penance turned out to be just that....penance. I was happy to pray before Christ...but my yearning intensified. I was close to him....but we were separated by small, golden doors. I could not receive. I would not be able to receive for at least another day. My only consolation was that, if I behaved myself, I would be able to receive Christ at other masses during the Triduum. This consolation was enough to put me in good spirits again and head over to Starbucks where I sat with my sister and a friend for an hour or so, having coffee and making the guy next to us laugh like crazy. I was on fire that night in terms of wit, jokes, and good humor...and we laughed quite a lot.

I was unable to go to mass this Good Friday due to my schedule and am a little bummed about it. However, I still prayed the rosary this morning and did what I could to avoid sin. I even fasted...and followed the advice of this young whippersnapper when it came to breaking my fast. I stopped at a place in Penn Station and got ice cold apple juice and a baguette (yeah, I know...how unpatriotic). After a long day, the ice cold apple juice really looked like quite the treat (especially since I don't really drink fruit juice...but it was either fruit juice or hunt down some wine). I gave them a $20 and expected a $5 and a $10 back. They gave me three 5's back (I still cannot believe my bread and juice came to $5 exactly). Feeling particularly crummy sometimes brings out the best in  me. Therefore, I sought out one of the homeless I usually see at Penn Station and found myself offering her the juice as well as $5. She declined...and then I offered her just the money, which she accepted with a "God bless you." I wished her a Happy Easter and wandered back into the crowded throng of people that makes up Penn Station. I looked for another one of the homeless I frequently see there...but could not find her. 

My train track came up and I boarded the train, thinking that my chances further Easter alsmgiving was over. However, I was wrong. A man came up and asked people if they could spare a dollar or so...so that he could afford the fare to Newark. Without thinking or hesitation, I just gave him one of the $5's knowing all to well that there's always the chance that people are scamming you for your money.

I know what you're probably thinking. If I knew there was a chance that he was scamming me, why did I give?

Flashback a few years to Atlantic City. I was sitting on a bench and some woman comes up to me and asks if she can sit next to me. I was naive at the point and she starts telling me a story about how her mom kicked her out of the house...etc. etc. etc. I knew she was lying and I have her some money more so she would leave me a lone than because I believed her. Another homeless guy sees this and comes up to me, telling me that this woman was just going to buy booze. He proceeds to tell me of this underground community of homeless people that finds other means of getting what they need. Some clean floors to get food from restaurants. He even demonstrated how easy it was to bum cigarettes off of people. I had already felt guilty about just giving the money to the woman for her to leave me alone...but this guy turned my act into something even uglier. He made a mockery out of almsgiving. He made a mockery out of me and he continued to almost berate me for my stupidity/naivete until my older sister came back from wherever she had been. She got me out of there and got the guy to stop bugging me. 

This experience hardened my heart to the less fortunate. I stopped giving the homeless money. I looked at them with suspicion and did so for quite a while until I was confessed by a pretty remarkable padre. You see, my conscience could not stand this hardened heart of mine and I needed advice on it....and boy did this padre give me some lessons. He told me that it did not matter what the homeless used their money on...that almsgiving required true selflessness. This involved being selfless to the point where you just give without concern over how the poor spend their money. I protested, thinking back to my Atlantic City experience. 

"What if they just use it to go off and get drunk? Can't I just give them  food or something?" 

"Well, sometimes that beer is what they need at the end of the day...just as you or I need a drink sometimes. You think that their being homeless strips them of their right to something that may give them what they need at the end of the day. You may give them the happiness they needed after an otherwise terrible day. If you just give them food, you are attempting to hold power over them them. Giving with those types of intentions exercises some control over what they are allowed to do with the money you give them. This is not almsgiving. You cannot give with the intention of controlling that person in any way. What gives you the right to do that?"

He then proceeded to tell me that the safest thing to do was just give selflessly to whoever was in need. His words were hard to swallow, but my conscience welcomed them. Regardless of what story they have, how terrible I feel, or how much I trust them...I tend to give. Yes, there are still times when I refuse (there is no way I am going to an ATM to withdraw $40 for you, regardless of how nicely you ask....). However, one thing I find hard to refuse is train tickets. There have been a few times where I have gotten people tickets home. I have come to the conclusion that God's mission for me is to send people home. I'm serious. Whether it means home in the heaven sense, Catholic Church sense, or just the train ticket sense, I always feel a call to help lead people home. Sometimes at train stations, I see people beg cent by cent or dollar by dollar to get the money necessary to get a train home. Whenever these people ask me for money, I just buy them a ticket regardless if they are recently released convicts heading home or disabled elderly men. I cannot imagine what it would be like if the only thing separating me from my family was a little piece of paper. I do what I can to help these people because that desperate longing for the comfort of home is something I can certainly relate to....as you can see by my experience on Thursday. The priest who confessed me, allowed me to get the ticket I needed to receive Christ this Easter. He did not have to help me. He certainly was not obliged to do so. However, he saw my desperation and wet out of his way to help me get what I needed. He could have easily turned me away so that I could come to the next set of confession hours....but he gave me just what I needed to find peace instead. How could I not do the same for my fellow man? 

Don't get me wrong, I still remain a little suspicious.
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves:
 be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

I have seen enough of some of these homeless to know the tricks they employ to get money....and I don't envy them. Regardless of how much money they may or may not make over the course of the day...I do not envy the manner in which they must earn their daily bread. I do not know enough about all of these people to judge them either. How am I to know who is innocent and who is conning? I don't....so I just leave it all to God. If they are innocent, my God help them more than I am able to help them on any given day. If they are guilty... may God forgive them and give them a chance to see the error of their ways. In any event, I think it is safer for me (and leaves my conscience most at rest) to just assume that those seeking help from me happen to be those that actually need it.

 Perhaps it is my pride speaking...or maybe it is my reason...but I could not live the lives they live whether they are homeless or con artists. Therefore, if I am being scammed, I leave it up to God...who is the only one who will ultimately judge me as well as any homeless or scammers I have come across during my entire life. I intend to go to the next world with as clean a conscience as I can. I cannot control the hearts of others or perceive their true intentions as the Lord does. Therefore, until I can distinguish poor from scammer, I will continue to give when I can, love when I can, and pray when I can for these children of God.

In case you're wondering, that last $5 (and all the nickels I had in my car) paid the toll for my drive home today. God certainly has His own way of doing things :)

Pax Vobiscum


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