“May we, like God, never tire of forgiving, of accompanying those who need forgiveness on a path to dignity and wholeness.”– Rev. Denis J. Madden, Baltimore Archdiocese*
I think it was Sister Karen who answered the door. We had all just finished noon prayer and convened in the dining room of Fremont House to have lunch, when Sister appeared and, beside her, a man in his early to mid-fifties, sporting a fleece jacket and a bright smile.
“This is David. He’s joining us for lunch.”
Our table, surrounded by white community members who were pausing to enjoy a Friday lenten meal of vegetable soup, cheese and bread, was now rounded out by a brown guest who was, save for his name, a stranger among us.
“How did you find us?” Katherine asked, making way for him to be seated at the table.
David told us of a mutual friend on the northside who pointed him our direction, and there was an immediate, collective nod — a knowing.
It’s good when friends point Jesus our way. It’s part of our ministry of prayer and presence to feed the hungry. To see Christ in our midst. To offer Jesus a bit to eat and a warm place to rest his feet.
Mary Frances went to make him a grilled cheese, and Suzanne dished up a bowl of the last serving of her homemade soup. We listened and learned from the spoken words – and the silence – of our Lenten guest’s journey.
“I just got out of prison two weeks ago, after a three year stint. I’m trying to find my family.” David told us where he was staying; he confided that his mother had died while he was in jail, and shared his desire to re-connect with his people. He wanted us to pray for him, for his courage to stay strong, stay out of trouble. He seemed grateful for the hot food.
I sat at the opposite end of the room and was in awe. Who was this man? Where did he come from? How could he trust us? Were I in his shoes, would I be able to confide in a room of strangers, to disclose such vulnerable truths?
At Mary Frances’ instigation, (or was it the Holy Spirit’s nudging?) we circled around him. We laid our hands on him. And we prayed. We prayed the spontaneous prayer of God’s love, of salvation, of grace, of our Lord’s mercy. We prayed for David. We prayed for ourselves. We gave thanks for his presence and the reminder of Christ’s forgiveness, of His promise of dignity and wholeness. We spoke words, we whispered intentions to ourselves. I thought of David’s mother, her soul in Heaven; his family, in whatever far reaches of this city or world they lived. I imagined, for a split second this formerly incarcerated man, this returning citizen, and his family, all in one embrace.
I touched his shirt sleeve and the back of his hand, and thought, “This is Jesus. He’s right here in the room.”
Lent is a time of of acknowledging our humanity, of seeing the way we sin – or separate ourselves from God. It’s a time of walking humbly together on this path of reconciliation and new life. As we pray for David, this day, we pray for ourselves and for the world; we pray for the ways our Christian journeys are bound up in one another and our salvation seeks to recognize and live our communion with God. We pray for our restored reunions to each other and the Loving God that made us all.
*From “Prison Addiction” published by America Magazine.
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