An Uncomfortable Witness
Every Thursday morning a group of Ragin Cajun Catholics from Our Lady of Wisdom head to St. Joseph’s Diner for breakfast. We arrive just before 7 am and stay until about 8 am. We usually have anywhere from three to six students who show up along with our pastor Fr. Sibley and me. This is a different type of opportunity for ministry. Rather than standing behind the wall of the serving line and getting our hands dirty, we simply sit with the men who come into the diner and try to strike up conversations. The first group comes in for breakfast at 7 am. These are the men who are living at the shelter, and they have about thirty minutes to eat. Then at 7:30 the next group comes in. These are the men who have just spent the night on the street. In fact, they have to prove that they were on the street that night in order to get in for breakfast.
To be honest, I am always a little nervous about going to the diner for our Thursday morning homeless outreach. In my experience, conversation has been awkward and forced more times than not. It would be easy to sleep in a few extra minutes and begin my day in the office at 8 or 8:30. It would be easy for me to live my comfortable life, but as Pope Benedict XVI once said, “we are not meant for comfort, but for greatness.” I often want to flee from this ministry because in order to sit among these men I have to put myself in a situation where I am not in control. I don’t know what to tell people who don’t have a roof over their head at night. I don’t know what to tell people who have lost loved ones, made bad choices, or simply have come upon hard times. The tough part about the ministry we do is that I often do not feel like I am “doing” much at all. It is hard to see the fruit that my work is bearing. At times when I feel like I’m really not doing anything, one of the workers will come up and tell me about how our simple hour each week makes the men feel like human beings. They tell me how they love us being there (even if it doesn’t seem like it at times), because we are some of the only people who take time to sit and visit with them.
Even though it is difficult, I will continue to get up each Thursday and go to the diner. I will do it, not because it makes me feel good, or because I think it is good publicity, but because it is what Jesus wants me to do. I will do it because these men deserve for me to be there and simply listen to their stories. I will do it because every person is beautiful, because every single one of those men is a beloved child of God. As a priest, as a Christian, as a human being, it is my duty to care for each of them, even if it is for just one hour a week.