This morning I got a call from a young man, someone who I would call a friend, and who I knew from my days as the Pastor of St. Wenceslaus, a wonderful “inner-city” parish in East Baltimore. My friend begged me to come and see him in the city because he said he’d been going through some very difficult times and he needed my “help.”
Although my schedule was filled, and my time very limited, I decided to respond to his call and so in the early afternoon I took a “quick” drive into the city to see him. I made this decision to visit him somewhat reluctantly because to be honest, my friend has “issues,” and sometimes interactions with him can be quite complicated.
He asked me to meet him in front of St. Wenceslaus, and as he said it, he told me how much he missed my presence there. Back in the day he would often come to Mass on Sundays at St. Wens, and in those days he would literally sit in the very last pew of the church-like the tax collector in the Jesus’ Gospel parable of “the Pharisee and the Publican” (see Luke 18:9-14). Many times and on many a weekday afternoon, this friend of mine and I would sit together in the front parlour of the rectory of the church, and over coffee and a little something to eat, we would talk about life and the struggles and even the joys therein. I fondly remember those wonderful conversations!
This afternoon, as I drove up Ashland Avenue and arrived in front of the church, I saw him on the steps of that beautiful house of God. It was completely heartbreaking for me to see him when I caught sight of him: he was laying on the highest of those steps, close to the doors, and he was seemingly “passed out.” It was as if being on those steps, his frail body hugging those doors, was a place of refuge and some kind of comfort for him. And I knew that entrance so well from my years of warmly greeting parishioners near those very doors. Today, anyone else who might have seen my friend like that may have assumed he was just another “homeless bum” and a “degenerate person.” But I knew better! (I quickly snapped this photo of him, hoping I could show it to him at a later time and use it to talk to him about why he had ended up in such a way).
Truth be told, my friend is a heroin addict, and he’s homeless and he has many “issues,” but he is a human being and he’s a real person with feelings and dreams, and he has genuine hopes for better tomorrows. This young man is actually a very good person with a most beautiful heart! I know him to be a person who cares for others, especially those who are suffering, and he, like most of us, wants this world to be a better place for all people.
I got out of my car and I went over to where he was resting on the steps of the church, and I asked him if he was okay. “Are you okay my brother?” I said to him, and then he opened his eyes and looked into mine and he broadly smiled, as if to say “thank you for being here my friend!”
He then looked and stared off into some distant place, and his eyes, changing in that instant to something hollow and sad, spoke loudly to me of some deep inner pain. He told me things haven’t been too well for him lately. As I looked into his very tired face, and I observed how frail indeed he looked, I had no doubt he was sharing a great truth, and the reality of tremendous inner pain and struggle.
Among other very sad and unfortunate things, he told me about how just the previous night someone had aggressively approached him on the street, and as he was verbally assaulted and spit upon by that most unfriendly stranger, was told he should “just roll over and die.”
Yes, my friend is a drug addict, but he doesn’t want to be enslaved by the illness he has. I strongly believe he wants to be like any one of us who desire happiness and contentment in this life.
Think about this: We are quick to say drug addiction is an “illness” but aren’t we less willing to treat it as such?
Would I walk into the hospital room of a friend or loved one who is dying of cancer and raise my fisted hand toward them and loudly scream at them saying “how dare you suffer with this illness?” Of course not!
Drug addiction is a very complicated illness, and those of us who have family and friends suffering with this disease certainly must be careful not to become “part of the problem.” And often that is a difficult road to walk!
My friends, please don’t harshly judge our sisters and brothers who struggle every day with the disease of substance abuse and addiction.
They are people too! They may even be members of our families and/or our own dear friends. And frankly, none of us are perfect, and we are all sinners!
Please pray for my friend. He’s really going through a difficult time during these days.
friar Timothy Dore OFM Conv.