I'm not really sure how to describe today. One thing I've notice is that days have taken on themes and today was a prime example of that, with an almost continuous feeling of powerlessness or helplessness.
I went for lunch at one of the 'penny dinner' places in town and sat opposite a man in his early 50s, David, and we ended up talking. David has just become homeless and it was heartbreaking listening to his story. He became estranged from his family after the death of his mother and then when crisis hit a few weeks back there was no family safety net for him. So he is living in a hostel, having his things stolen, and has attempted suicide as he sees his life crumble. There was nothing I could do to help, apart from listen and tell him that I would pray for him.
A few days ago someone suggested that I should sit for an hour or two in the public gallery of the criminal court, to better understand the dynamic facing some of the people who live on the streets - a cycle of abandonment, drugs, petty crime and prison. I ended up sitting in on a sentencing hearing and again the story was heartbreaking: a guy in his early thirties who had been on heroin and a host of other drugs for half his life. He was found guilty of 2 robberies and 2 attempted robberies, using a used needle to threaten the staff. In 2 of the cases he robbed local stores where the staff recognised his voice - how desperate must he have been. The only bright spot in this story is that he has been in prison for a year, is off drugs, and has been doing a fitness training certificate. His progress is such that he has been offered the chance to work as a trainer in the prison gym. Perhaps the cycle has been broken, God willing. He was sentenced to 5 years. Hopefully that doesn't knock him back and hopefully he can continue to learn and get himself ready for when he does come out.
And finally, as I was sitting in mass this evening, thinking through the experiences of the day. A young man, maybe early 20s, came and sat behind me and began imploring me in whispered tones for some money to help him pay for a hostel that night. He was drunk and his eyes were filled with absolute desperation. He showed me the clearly new wound in his head, saying he had been assaulted in his previous hostel. He told me a bit of his story, but I lost focus on it - all I can remember now is that his troubles started at the age of 13. Again there was nothing I could do apart from suggest he go to a nearby homeless centre, which he already knew about, and ask his name - Christopher - and tell him I would pray for him. He moved on to ask others in the congregation for money before being ushered out of the church - and after that it was one of the most difficult masses I've ever been at. Where was Christ in this? What could and should I have done. The picture today is the pew in front of me and I like it because it conveys not just the cross, but a sense of barrier and limit and incompleteness, all things I am feeling tonight.
I always try and spend some time each evening trying to work out what God might be saying to me through the encounters and experiences of the day. Right now, I don't know, because even if it is about feeling compassion, that doesn't feel anywhere near enough.
If any of you who read this are praying tonight, please pray for David and Christopher, that their lives might be turned around.