Editor’s Note: As part of DC Service Corps, Lizzy Balboa volunteers with Little Friends For Peace, a nonprofit organization that promotes inner and interpersonal peace skills within children and adults. In the third installment of her “Portraits of Christ” series, Lizzy reflects on her experiences at the Father McKenna Center, a Catholic social service agency for men struggling with homelessness.
In the converted sanctuary of the now-defunct St. Aloysius Church, we process by the warbled hymns of catcalls and profanities as the men of the McKenna Center pass the flame of cigarette lighters. Marijuana is their incense, and Jack their communion cup.
Though unprepossessing, this Mecca for men experiencing homelessness is truly a treasure trove.
When LFFP Director MJ Park summons them to her sharing circle to be listened to and cared for, she unlocks in the most modest individuals a wealth of wisdom and love. A glimmering light is unleashed and the world gets a little wealthier.
Those of us lucky enough to be present greedily grasp at the wisdom, but there’s no need. Once unlocked, the men remain open and return week after week with more to share.
With thoughtful reflection and keen introspection, they divulge the feeling of degradation that fuels their fists when cut in the lunch line. They share the shame of unemployment that inspires them to join us in a haze of weed or daze of intoxication. They tell of the broken relationships that isolate them from family and friends.
And as one shares, the others listen with sincere focus and impressive virtue. They suspend their preoccupation with personal citizenship issues and girlfriend woes to celebrate another’s housing triumphs and mourn another’s lost job.
In this way, the peace circle fulfills a deep need for them to connect with other human beings, to care and be cared for, to forge community.
I have seen how this experience changes them. Most return weekly seeking deeper conversation. They demonstrate increasing vulnerability and glow with increasing joy.
And I, too, am changed.
I’ve been changed by McKenna staffer Cortez, who grew up tough on the streets before landing in prison for some years. It was there that, with great humility and self-control, he committed to nonviolence and emotional vulnerability in spite of the immediate damage they did to his macho reputation.
I’ve been changed by Alex, the Latin American immigrant with humble transparency of his alcohol addiction. With shame and diffidence, he stares at the ground as he repents of abusing his family years ago. His unsettled soul yearns for absolution.
I’ve been changed by David King, who prefers the affectionate sobriquet “King David.” And by his wisdom, he has earned it. King David is a former drug abuser who spent nearly half of his life incarcerated. Now in his 60s, and only a few years out from his last prison stint, he is reprioritizing. He spends his days in prayer, reflection on his mistakes, and service of his fellows, and he is quick to share his fresh philosophy that the only person he can ever control is himself. Through his testimony and life lessons, I have been changed and, quite possibly, saved.
In the McKenna men, I’ve peered into the eyes of Compassion, rested in the company of Patience, heard the voice of Humility, shook the hand of Gentleness. I’ve known Christ.
Through their demonstrations of virtue—their sincere example of giving from poverty—I’ve been challenged and empowered to be Christ for others, even when preoccupied with my own burdens.
By this low-risk investment in other people—in hearing their pains and joys and walking with them on their journeys—I’ve found richness, and there’s still plenty to share.
Reflection Question: How have you allowed yourself to be changed by the experiences of people you have encountered?Your Gift Makes This All Possible: Donate in Support of DC Service Corps
Featured photo courtesy of the Father McKenna Center.