There are many anniversaries in one’s life. Typically they’re happy events marking a moment of love proclaimed, health restored, or goals achieved. But there are other anniversaries celebrated with less fanfare, and because of their nature are approached with a deeper sense of reflection and contemplation. Anniversaries like these often focus on a moment when the direction of one’s life has changed, when one takes stock in what they have done, or haven’t done.
I’m coming up on an anniversary in a few months that won’t be marked with a celebration, but rather with regret, humility and a determination to do something positive and lasting with the opportunities afforded me each day.
As part of my court supervised probation, I am required to perform a set amount of hours in service to the community. What I’m determined to do is to not just be physically present, but to be fully engaged in each moment that I serve. My motivation comes not only from a sense of responsibility, but also a desire to seize these moments as an opportunity to learn and to grow.
There’s little doubt that if I had not acted in a way that put me in front of the court that I would not have become acquainted with Franciscan Outreach. For over 50 years Franciscan Outreach has helped the homeless to sit in front of a hot meal, be sheltered for a night, and to enjoy, at least for a moment, a sense of security that cannot be found out on the street.
Located at 1645 West Lemoyne on the west side of Chicago, the program was founded in 1963 by Father Phillip Marquard, a Franciscan Friar, who wanted to help ex-offenders with housing and preparation for re-entry into society. As the needs of the community changed, the mission of Franciscan Outreach evolved to focus on the plight of the homeless. Today, Franciscan serves hundreds of those in need with food, shelter and counseling.
Like many, I often do not see the homeless, even though I pass these men and women every day. I reflexively avert my eyes from the body lying on cardboard at my feet to my phone with an intensity that’s superficial and transparent. I don’t want to engage because I don’t want to be asked for money, I don’t want to be slowed from my walk and I don’t want to be forced to acknowledge the disparity between them and me. I avoid interaction with the homeless because it’s just easier.
My fledgling period of service at Franciscan has helped to re-focus my eyes, open my mind and soften my heart to the guests of the outreach program. At Franciscan, the volunteers are taught that the most important part of the service is not the efficient ladling of food, but the interaction that one allows between themselves and those whom they serve. It’s not about becoming friends, but rather acknowledging that no matter how different our circumstances, we share a common humanity that deserves respect, empathy and understanding.
The plight of the homeless is a complex issue often involving mental illness, substance abuse and more often than one might imagine, a run of bad luck. As the anniversary of my court hearing approaches, I’ll be quietly remembering the forgiveness and generosity I was shown and will endeavor to be worthy of those gifts.
(If you'd like to learn more about Franciscan Outreach and considering the possibility of donating or volunteering to this worthy cause, please visit http://franoutreach.org)