God Interrupts Our Lives


Editor’s Note: The following reflection is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ.


Water of Life
Our side porch is the site of a sandwich ministry where volunteers share anywhere from 60 to 140 sandwiches each weekday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we also give out food bags. Anyone who has been here for a service retreat has made lunches and even participated in the service of distributing sandwiches. Sandwich ministry has evolved and still is developing as more people come for food and we try to offer effective help.When we began this service, we gave soda and bottled water along with the sandwiches. Last May, two volunteers, Tim Gallagher and Mike Montavon, came up with the idea of self-service water. We now have two water coolers on our porch to provide water for homeless women and men in our downtown neighborhood. Sandwich ministry goes from 10:00 to 12:00, Monday through Friday, but our modest, orange Home Depot water coolers provide water any time of the day or night for people living on the streets around us. This source of water has been very popular, particularly in the hot days of spring and summer.

In some ways this service is simple: people in need get water for drink and for washing up. But in other ways, there is a lot more going on.
One thing is that this water has created a place for encounter between two worlds. Perhaps talking about two worlds is too clumsy a way to talk about people; everyone who serves and everyone who is served comes with an individual story. But in a general way, we can talk about one world of “middle class people” with security and resources, and the other of the “needy” without those basics.
Our needy fall into two general demographics. First, there are poor people trying to make ends meet. Many are new Americans struggling to get a foothold in this “land of opportunity.” There are people with limited income, homeless vets, people with mental illnesses.
The other main group is people on the streets because of drug use. You can read on their faces the length of time they have been living exposed to the all the harshness of outside living. Sometimes people will approach the door, and we are not sure whether they are going to turn out to be volunteers or homeless people. Others appear gaunt and hardened by months or years on the street, the spark of life confused and dimmed by addiction.
God Interrupts Our Lives

I first wrote this reflection when I was preparing to preach on the gospel scene (Luke 7:39-8:3) where Jesus is a guest in the house of a Pharisee, a “sinful woman” comes to the Lord, anoints his feet, bathes them with her tears, and dries them with her hair. Clearly the woman has experienced some sort of interruption by grace. So she comes to the Lord ready for change, extravagantly expressing her love and her desire for a new direction.The host does not like that Jesus associates with a sinner in this way. We can easily imagine that he thinks he has his life together, that he is happy and complete. Perhaps he is aware of some inconsistencies and contradictions in his beliefs and behaviors, but feels like it is under control. Jesus’ behavior interrupts the assumptions and direction of the man’s life. He gives the man a challenge to look honestly at sin, forgiveness and grace. One subversive thing about the gospel is that it never lets us off the hook. Every challenge is addressed to us. God’s grace interrupts every life.
We hope that our water, the many of the encounters it fosters, and the kindness and respect extended may serve as moments of God breaking into the lives of people in this harsh city. Often, people will express gratitude for the water. In response, sometimes I’ll say, “We wish we could do more; I feel bad that you have to be out here.” What I am looking for is a stronger interruption to break through the resistance that comes with addiction or hopelessness. Perhaps as we spend more time here, we will learn how to do this. For now the simple signs of water and conversation are our tools. Small interruptions can have a cumulative effect.

This week a man, Billy, stopped by our house. He had been a regular at the door for water, food, and usually with a story about how he needed “just five dollars” to get to his sister’s house in suburban Philadelphia. He also repeatedly asked to use a phone, because he had met someone who was going to take him to a rehab program somewhere. This went on for months, and we could see the toll his drug use and living on the streets were taking on him. He even showed up some days with bruises on his face and cuts on his bald head. In all of our encounters he was polite and easy to engage, even though we knew he was stretching the truth, trying to get by.
He stopped by to see us because he was doing better. Three months ago he had been picked up by the police and had been in jail. He described this as saving his life. He got away from the danger on the street, he was able to detox from drugs and alcohol. And he told us he feels like he is headed in a new direction. God interrupted, and Billy has responded.
It meant so much that Billy went out of his way to tell us that he appreciated the support we gave via the hospitality extended by the volunteers and the Oblates. It means so much to have evidence that we too are cooperating with God’s grace in these ordinary encounters at our door.

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