I have no problem remembering “Michael,” the young homeless guy who talks a mile a minute, a born salesman who has deftly convinced me to contribute a few hundred dollars to his cause over the years. I don’t forget “Mark’s” name, he who graduated from our school twenty years ago but is now a happy drunk living from hand to mouth in his old neighborhood. “Al” is a name I don’t forget, for he too has a philosophic approach to his lot in this life, looking forward to the next one. He says with a smirk that the streets of San Francisco are not all they are cracked up to be, at least for him and his buddies. But this sad man, who comes almost every day for a coffee and a sandwich—I can’t remember his name! His hair is long and greasy and stringy, and he has a tragic tumor bulging from the right side of his face. He has to wear glasses but they are usually broken or smudged.
Yesterday morning, St. Joseph’s day, I came up to the office front door to find him waiting patiently for his daily bread. “Good morning!” I chirped, to which he made some sort of sad response. “Someone smashed the statue of Our Lady last night,” I noted, pointing to the empty spot where the Blessed Mother used to stand beside her homeless. He shook his head sadly and said “I guess they got the flower pot too….” Yes, I confirmed, “they threw that down the stairs too.” I guess he liked those flowers as much as I did.
Not knowing what else to say, I commented on the amount of rain we’ve had this winter. “What do you do when it rains?” I asked. “I find a doorway,” he said plaintively. At that moment our faithful parish secretary appeared at the door with coffee and sandwiches. “Thank you,” he mumbled and shoved off. I went into the office to begin the day’s business.
Tomorrow we will hear Christ’s parable of “Dives and Lazarus.” Lazarus is the homeless man languishing at the door of an unnamed rich man nicknamed “Dives” (the word for rich in Latin). The poor man at my door has no name, at least not one anyone can remember, but God knows this poor man’s name. His name is Lazarus, from the Hebrew Eleazar, meaning “God has helped.” In Christ’s parable, it is the rich man who has no name.
I tossed and turned in a warm bed as the rain pounded outside this morning. Where was my Lazarus, and who would help him in the cold predawn streets of San Francisco? I can’t help him much, and in fact I can’t do much of anything. I couldn’t get back to sleep because, after thinking about Lazarus, the many problems afflicting my parish and my school swarmed over my helpless body. “Jesus help me,” I prayed over and over. “God help us.” Well, in fact, only God can help us. He will, I firmly believe, and He has, I firmly attest. But still, I can do something. I can learn my homeless man’s name. I can smile at him and give him an extra spoonful of sugar in his coffee this morning. God will have to do the rest, and I know He will.