Skip to main content

We must become an inn for every poor man in this world, and who isn’t poor?

I have sometimes reflected that our work seems to be mainly one of saying goodbye.

As members of Madonna House, we say goodbyes to our blood families and friends. We say goodbyes to our homeland and then to each house we serve in. We say goodbyes to friends each time we are transferred. We say goodbyes many, many times to the guests visiting Combermere. Goodbyes tear at the heart.

But this time, as I prepared to move to Marian Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan, I heard instead an invitation. An invitation to see things a little differently, to see that maybe our apostolate is really one of hello.

Hellos are also a work. Hellos are full of new opportunities, opportunities to welcome and love. Hellos stretch my heart.

“Jesus is waiting for you in Regina” was the word given me by my spiritual director. Later, our foundress, Catherine Doherty, seemed to confirm this with the following excerpt from our constitution:

“We must pray for that enlargement of heart because we must become an inn for all those besieged by robbers, and where is the man or woman today who isn’t? Yes, we must pray for that enlargement of heart because we must become an inn for every poor man in this world, and who isn’t poor? Yes, we must become an inn for every pilgrim—and who is not a pilgrim?

Enlarging our heart means touching God with one hand, as it were, and touching man with another. This means that we become cruciform. This means we must enter into a new dimension of faith and also a new dimension of prayer which stems from that faith and helps the Lord to enlarge our heart (Section IV p. 6).

So how has Jesus been waiting for me in Regina? How is my heart being enlarged?

It has been 28 years since I lived in Regina and was a sporadic volunteer at MCR.

The soup kitchen is basically the same. Many faces have changed; some not. The stew is still the best in town. The volunteers still arrive in generous and cheerful crews to chop and serve and wipe and clean. The men and women in the food line still greet the new person on staff.

The biggest difference is that our alley has a higher concentration of drug culture.

With a warming house on either end of our street and a safe injection site nearby, there is a significant increase in foot traffic among the scattered garbage. The warming houses opened about a month or so before my arrival. They provide shelter but not beds during the cold nights. They allow people in and out all night to do their drugs as they wish. Overdoses have become regular occurrences with emergency services swooping in.

One can see that the warming houses are coming out of concerned hearts. As they meet their limitations on how to staff, where to get funding, and how to face the immense stress of working nights, they are also answering a need to provide shelter during the minus temperatures.

What is the best answer to these overwhelming needs and unsolvable problems? We hear of suggestions to end homelessness, to end the deaths, and to end the drug culture. Good ideas, sometimes impracticable ideas, but I wonder if they really answer the deepest problem or need.

It is hard to watch lives be destroyed by drugs. To watch others walk by with distaste or to feel my own disgust when facing someone in their filth. To confront my own powerlessness and helplessness before an unsolvable problem. To face the doubts in my heart: Is a heart stretched by the Lord enough? Is me standing cruciform an answer?

I get glimpses that it is. It won’t solve the poverty, the homelessness nor the broken homes and broken lives. But it does live the truth proclaimed by Pope St. John Paul II that: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failings, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” * And it is daily lived out in my midst.

I see love in action, as one of our volunteers stops her work to listen with openness and tenderness to the disjointed story of a woman in distress.

I see it in the community members here, as when Christine turned to meet an angry screaming woman and gave her space to calm down. Or when Paul knelt to help a drugged-out youngster put on warmer socks and boots for the night ahead. Or in Kate prepping for each day’s meal with a song of joy in her whole being.

Or in Charlie’s delight in organizing ice cream cones for one of the meals. Or in the many glances (and prayers) out the window to check on a brother passed out in the parking lot.

Sometimes the glimmer of light comes from one of the brothers or sisters Christopher** we welcome into our home four times a week for a warm space, a visit, and a meal.

We hosted a group of homeschooling families for a time of prayer and service. Teenagers came from a diocesan youth rally for a glimpse of the soup kitchen and to help on clean up. Thirty friends came for an afternoon of recollection on the prodigal son parable. A student from St Therese Academy spent a week living and serving with us.

Our home is a sanctuary for many, both to shelter and give respite, but also to highlight the holy in our midst.

So, though I have returned among “my people,” and though I am grateful for sky and the sunshine and even the wind, I see that the biggest gift is to have my heart enlarged a little more. I am excited to see just where this adventure will lead me.

*World Youth Day, Toronto in 2002.

** Christophers are men and women, often homeless, or living in precarious situations.

Restoration July/August 2024