Franciscan Spirit Blog

Notes from a Friar: Loving the ‘Least of Us’

A homeless woman holds a container bearing a sign reading "Please Help Me" as she begs for money on a street in Sydney Oct. 28, 2016. In a pre-election statement, Australian bishops did not endorse an political platform, but said voters should consider candidates who might prioritize people who need palliative care, those in low-paying and insecure jobs, First Nations peoples, asylum-seekers and refugees. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

Moving is disorienting, no matter how often a person has done it. A couple recently stopped by our friary. They’ve moved so many times that they switch up the biblical phrase, “pilgrims and strangers” and describe themselves as “strange pilgrims.” Anytime a person changes residences, it does feel strange. When I moved into the friary I am in currently, I returned to a Cincinnati neighborhood I knew long ago that is now quite different.

My introduction to Over-the-Rhine was in 1981 when I moved to Zacchaeus Friary. When I left in 1983, I knew our neighbors and the rhythm of our street. We lived with about eight men without a home, most of whom stayed with us friars a couple of months until they could establish residency and become eligible for benefits. Then we helped them establish their own apartment. 

Over-the-Rhine has changed dramatically, from being the poorest neighborhood in Cincinnati to an up-and-coming place for young people. A portion of it now has upscale apartments and condos, artisan retailers, boutique shops and great small restaurants. But the area around Findlay Market, where Pleasant Street Friary stands, is still a place for very mixed incomes.

Moving back has been a learning experience. I was finishing my prayer time early Sunday morning when I heard a person howling in our parking lot. I looked out the window to see a shirtless man in his 30s striking garbage cans, hitting himself, shrieking profanities and jumping up and down on red rental bikes in rage. He eventually moved down the street, and with the coast clear, I went out for one of my infrequent jogs.

As I was finishing this jog I began to hear his shrieks again. I started to pray, asking God to give me the right words should I see him. I spotted him on the other side of the street, picking up refuse, wrappers and pop cans. After he started down his list of obscenities, I shouted across the street, “Good morning!” He seemed startled and responded with, “Oh, sir, I was not talking to you. Please forgive me.”

When I approached him, he told me that he was not worth talking to, that he was unforgivable. I remarked that he was picking up the garbage and putting it in containers, so he was doing something good for others. He could only tell me he was unforgivable, then shriek, howl, yell. I walked silently with him. Familiar with the meltdowns of some schizophrenics I lived with at Zacchaeus Friary, I just walked as he shrieked, and silently prayed, giving him space. His tone became softer. 

Love In Service

When we parted, I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He said no. My thoughts were of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac. In this case, healing started with the removal of my fear. I saw the danger, but also saw that this man was my brother and needed reminding, as I do, of his real identity in God. Did my silent intervention help him, or was he just tired of shouting? I thought of the homeless in Cincinnati who were recently forced to move from a place where they had set up camp. I wondered about the many refugees seeking asylum in our country who are turned away and sent back to violence, even torture. 

If that were me, I would be shrieking, too. And I thought of the Gerasene neighbors, who after seeing the man named Legion fully clothed and of sound mind, asked Jesus to move away from there. Upsetting the way things are, restoring a possessed man to becoming a beloved brother, can cause others to see the initiator as strange, as one to be expelled himself. I think that in my recent move to Pleasant Street, I, too, am a strange pilgrim, as the Hausfelds call it. Returning to any neighborhood has that bittersweet feel to it.

I’m glad I have good brothers to be with me in this journey. And I pray for that howling man to find a place that is not so strange, where he will find rest in his real identity as God’s beloved.


4 thoughts on “Notes from a Friar: Loving the ‘Least of Us’”

  1. Thank you Brother Mark
    This was personal, I live in Cincinnati, I know the Friary and parking lot you referred to. These places and people are real to me.
    Jim Myres, OFS

  2. Good morning. My name is Linda. I love the Lord..Jesus is my only hope!!!I have survived a very abusive 28yr marriage(Of whichI am no longer in)..I have four adult children. three sons and one daughter. We are all very scarred from years of living in dysfunction (mental physical and verbal abuse and masterminded controll) Mostly directed toward me!!!When I left him. he poisoned my family more. tried t split us all up…one of my son’s didn’t speak t me for eight years!!!..My youngest son Scottie. left with me then he brainwashed him t live with him..he allowed him t smoke pot..have sex..quit school. and not work…and he had t hear his dad talk horrible about I broke up the family!!! He started drinking smoking pot snd getting into bad stuf on the internet..
    There is so much more t tell but it would b a book !!!Please please ???? pray for Scottie. he us 31 and sooo lost..I live in Ohio .Scottie is in with girl that does massages (of which he gets her client’s) and is involved with tarra cards and fortune telling!!!
    He cannot keep a job .he drinks alot.exercises..and goes t Starbucks
    And expects everyone t help him and bail him out of trouble he’s encured from his bad temper!!!
    My heart is so broken..I pray ..pray ..pray..don’t know what else t do t help him…When I send him money I am told not t because I’m enabling him!!! Please please keep him and his friend he lives with Nakita in your prayers…WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE..
    I am currently studying t be a Third order Franciscan..May God bless u all..Thankyou Linda

  3. What a wonderful testimony. I am a lover of Jesus as is my husband. I pray that I too can hear the voice of my Lord better and to be ready to be His hands and feet. We live in Northern Michigan and also have the homeless.our churches provide much help in our very cold winters. Bless you all and may God watch over.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter​

Includes Saint of the Day, Minute Meditations, and Pause + Pray.