To promote their well-rounded education, a prestigious university in New York encouraged undergrads to enroll in extracurricular activities. These included team sports, study clubs, culturally diverse associations and especially volunteer work with underserved populations in the city. These latter opportunities involved stopping by nursing homes, serving at soup kitchens, joining fund-raising drives, tutoring in elementary grades, teaching English to refugees, and visiting with terminally ill children and their families. The most popular program was “The Midnight Pass.”
The Midnight Pass was a monthly venture, which began at 11 p.m. in the campus ministry office with assigned tasks for the gathered participants. Some schoolmates sorted and labeled the clothing that had been donated to the cause while others assembled survival packages containing a bar of soap, a washcloth, a comb, dental products, water bottles, potato chips, protein bars, and two homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
At midnight the group gathered themselves and their gifts into a huge van and drove downtown. They stopped at a well-lit curb near a row of park benches where the homeless often camped for the night. As soon as their vehicle arrived, a steady stream of indigents emerged from the shadows, thankful to receive some hot cocoa and basic supplies. What the freshmen quickly learned came as a logical yet unforeseen reality. Along with the free food and warm clothing, the homeless folks were most grateful for a few minutes of conversation.
When recounting their experience to the chaplain, the new students admitted they never realized how infrequently anyone stopped to talk with beggars. Passersby may give money, a cup of coffee, even a burger and fries, but rarely, if ever, a two-minute chat or even two seconds for the time of day. What St. Teresa of Calcutta declared years ago still rings true today: “Loneliness can be as painful as any physical disease and is easily cured by spending a few moments together and exchanging a few sentences of kind words.”
Lisa, a graduating senior, was a Midnight Pass veteran. In the final meet of the semester, she and her sorority sister, Kiara, decided to walk a few blocks beyond the van to leave goody bags next to the destitute people sleeping under layers of old newspapers spread above the steam rising from subway grates. Lisa was adept at leaving some treasures on the concrete pavement without waking the person snoring beneath cardboard rubble.
However, after her final “Pass” for the evening, Lisa returned to the van quite upset. When asked what shook her, she replied, “I was placing the sandwiches next to this sleeping man who was facing the building. He turned suddenly and looked at me intently as if to confront someone who might be stealing what little he had. As I gazed into his deep blue eyes I felt chills because he looked so much like my own father. When he realized that we meant no harm his expression softened. In a voice, which sounded eerily like my dad’s, he whispered, ‘Thank you, honey,’ which is exactly what my father would have said. I smiled and left immediately. I wondered if he turned back to the wall to conceal a tear of gratitude for an unexpected moment of kindness from someone young enough to be his daughter.”
This month, let’s offer a prayer for all fathers in the world, whether they are heaven-bound, homeward bound or homeless-bound. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for them.
Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.
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