Fr. Peter Daly
March 4, 2008
It has been a great Lent.
Not because of some personal sacrifice, but because our parish is helping the homeless.
We started a program called “Safe Nights” in our county. Churches each take a week housing the homeless who cannot be accommodated in the one shelter in our county.
It has been a huge blessing to us all.
For once I feel like I really doing what God wants of us for Lent.
Every year, at the beginning of Lent, we read from the prophet Isaiah about what kind of fasting the Lord really wants from us.
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance; that a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?... This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly,… Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, … and not turning your back on your own.” (Isaiah 58: 5,7).
For once we are really doing it in a personal and direct way. Not by giving money to some big agency, but by doing it ourselves.
For two weeks this Lent we are sheltering the homeless, sharing our bread with the hungry and not turning our backs on our own.
From 7 PM to 7 AM we are sheltering any homeless people who cannot be accommodated at the one homeless shelter in the County.
We give them supper and breakfast, a place to shower, and a place to sleep. We also give them a little conversation, friendship and, in some cases, substantial help to find a home.
More than 150 people from our parish have volunteered to make this program work. We have been housing from 10 to 25 people per night.
One couple in our parish has given practically full time to the project. They not only coordinate our church efforts, but they have lined up 7 other churches and trained their volunteers. This year we will cover 8 weeks. Next year we hope to house the homeless for 22 weeks in the winter months (November to March).
It has been a great grace for our parish and for our whole community.
We have gotten to know these homeless not someone we see through our car windows but as real people, with names and families.
They are mostly employed. Some work two jobs. They just can’t make enough at low wages to pay rent or get the money together for a security deposit.
They have a lot of problems. Some have mental problems. Some have criminal records. Some have substance abuse problems.
But almost all have been polite, cooperative and grateful. They tell us thank you. They even pray before meals.
Now when we drive around our county, we know them as people. We wave. We talk.
The other great grace of this program is that it has brought the faith communities together. Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians have hosted the homeless in their church buildings. Quakers, Jews, Moslems, and Evangelicals have participated by cooking meals and volunteering as monitors. Despite our differences in theology and tradition, we are friends in the Lord’s work.
Because we have come to know the homeless as people, we have been able to help them. My parish alone has helped four families get into rental housing by paying their security deposits. Without this program, they would still be sleeping in cars or shelters. I am most proud of the fact that my parish took the lead and got the program off the ground.
Doing the Lord’s work like this has changed our Lent.
We have a feeling of excitement and purpose. At last we are doing the kind of fast the Lord desires. We are so happy doing it.
It has been a great Lent.