On Saturday, Laura and I took BART to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to see the Diego Rivera exhibition.
What a fantastic experience!
Not only was the artwork stunning, but the building itself is magnificent.
On the way back on the train, our heads full of beautiful sights, we experienced a different, contrasting reality. Just across where we were sitting there was a homeless man in terrible shape. His clothes were in tatters, his shirt bloodstained, and he was so spaced out on drugs that he could hardly sit up straight. He belonged in a hospital, not on a train. We were determined not to give him wide berth, as others had already done, and so we had to confront his suffering for at least 45 minutes. It wasn’t easy.
What a contrast to the beautiful things we had just seen! Our hearts were broken as we looked on in frustration. There was nothing we could do to help, except to be present. It was even more upsetting when at one point, he roused himself from his stupor, ripped off the rosary he was wearing around his neck, and threw it on the subway floor.
When our seminarians start their parish ministries, they will undoubtedly have similar experiences, as they are confronted by persons who seem far beyond any pastoral comfort they might possibly give. There is no quick fix for their plight, no simple political solution or social engineering program that will help these severely broken souls.
Still, Jesus does give us some guidelines: Don’t turn away, like those who passed by the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Do what you can, even if it’s a little money and a sandwich. Keep up the pressure on officials who would like us to ignore the tragedy of such suffering on the streets of the world’s richest nation. But maybe most of all, be present. Ask their name, give them yours, and look for Jesus’ face in theirs.