Starting Point
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Issue Date:  May 6, 2005

Starting Point


After many happy years as a nursing home coordinator, pastoral associate, English teacher and administrator, retirement beckoned. I used the time as an opportunity to cross over the tracks (literally) into ministries that serve the neediest among us. I found people who, in spite of poverty and little hope for the future, have hearts of immense gratitude.

On a recent afternoon I sat at the door of a hall where our cathedral parish prepares and serves lunch to homeless people, offering candies as the diners left. A man in his 40s with the familiar backpack, which for many contains their total possessions, stopped. He pulled from that bag an old hymnal with a lovely image of Jesus glued to the cover and began to tell me about his favorite hymns.

Suddenly, without comment, he began to sing loud and clear, looking to the heavens. Later I asked if he sang in a choir. He answered that when younger he had sung in two choirs, but that he had no plans now to join any choir other than the heavenly one.

“I long to see the love in the face of Jesus,” he said. “Nothing else matters. Why do people waste time getting and spending? They then waste the rest of their lives worrying and caring for all that stuff they have accumulated.”

I had no logical answer to such a sensible question.

Since it was rainy and cool outdoors, I asked if he planned to go to a shelter for the night. His answer came without hesitation: “No. Jesus had no place to lay his head. Why should I? I have him no matter where I go. That’s all I need.”

We gave him food for physical nourishment. He gave me beautiful and lasting food for thought. That is what I found on the other side of the tracks: a treasure that fits nicely in the pockets of the heart and therefore requires not so much as a backpack to carry it.

Ursaline Sr. Vera Gardner writes from Louisville, Ky.

National Catholic Reporter, May 6, 2005

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