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Starting Point

Though a hard guy to like, Junior teaches us all about God’s inclusivity


Junior is a homeless man who frequents the neighborhood of St. Vincent’s Parish in St. Louis, Mo. At the end of each month, Junior graces the meals for the poor with his unpredictable presence.

Not only homeless, he seems incorrigibly homeless. Social workers have found him places to live; he trashes them and gets evicted. Junior is a “mean drunk,” and because he drinks a lot, he’s often mean, verbally abusive and noisy. The benefit of a cleansing shower would be a wonderful event, if not for Junior, at least for people who get close to him.

Junior quickly dispels any romantic notion about street people and serving the poor. Dealing with him on a daily or weekly basis tries patience, makes us watch his moods and keeps us cautious. Meshed with and compounded by the alcohol abuse is serious and chronic mental illness. Most social service agencies in the city have given up on Junior.

Lately Junior has been attending the 9 a.m. Sunday eucharistic worship. One Sunday he wandered up the side aisle and across the center, arriving at the front of the altar just as Fr. Jim lifted the bread and said, “This is my body.”

On another Sunday, Junior was so late for Mass that as he walked up the center aisle, the ministers turned and began to process out. Junior led the exit.

Members of St. Vincent’s parish, well-educated in the Vincentian charism and expecting the poor to teach us, have learned from this unlikely teacher. Who is the body of Christ? Where is the body of Christ? Was it mere accident that this homeless man met the words of consecration head-on? That he led the body of Christ out the church doors and into the hall, where parishioners and the homeless share donuts, coffee and conversation?

Where is the father and family that the name “Junior” indicates? He is as surely a child of God as anyone else in the congregation. God’s cleansing shower of grace is as much gift for him as it is for anyone who chooses to “walk in the reign.”

Some of us may not want to associate with Junior any more than we need to. He’s hard to like. Most of us, however, need to pay attention to the lessons he has to offer -- lessons about grace and about the inclusivity of the people of God. Not all teachers are in classrooms. Sometimes we find a teacher in the most unexpected, unprepared and unlikely people.

People like Junior can make us students of the life around us, a life that beckons us to observe, reflect, learn and act with the grace that leads us out the church door into the bright sunshine of a deeper and deeper mystery.

Regina Siegfried, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, writes from St. Louis, Mo., where she edits the Review for Religious.

National Catholic Reporter, October 9, 1998