Locking Jesus Out of The Church

Locking Jesus Out of The Church

By John Mallon

Originally appearing in the April 23, 1988 issue of The Pilot, 

The Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston

I was very struck by Hugh Maguire's article "Unlock the Church" (The Pilot; April 22, 1988) and I would like to broaden his proposal somewhat.  The very same idea had been on my mind all week, as it has been in the past because of specific incidents that have happened to me.  Recently a very troubled and very needy woman I had known from my hometown appeared in my path seeking help.  She was in flight from an abusive living situation and needed a place to stay. She was in serious need of professional psychological help, and many other things I could not provide, but she was not dangerous and simply needed a place to spend the night without fear.  She wanted to see a priest so I took her to a priest's residence.  The priest and I couldn't solve her problems (she was confused and resistant to some of the help offered) but he and I were struck by the fact that neither of us could think of a place in the Christian Community that could at least take her in for the night. We were in the Newton/Brighton area which is the archdiocesan headquarters, with many churches and religious houses nearby,  and those two great pastoral centers, Boston College and St. John's Seminary; yet we were stumped. 

Needy people show up in our lives at the most inconvenient times.  Like God.  Those Scriptures haunt us... "As often as you refused to do it for them you refused me..."  Then, the rationalizations: "I really can't help this person,  they need professional help,  they have to want to get help...  my family's waiting for me at home... my supper will get cold...  I'll catch cold if I stay out in this dampness... then again, this person might die if I don't do something now ." As a Catholic Christian I have been embarrassed and frustrated when confronted by Our Lord in the form of desperate people who were quite beyond my ability to care for, when I couldn't say to them, "Oh yes! You've come to the right place! I belong to a Body of People who will love you, and pray with you, and help you get on your feet again. Come with me, I'll take you to the Church! We'll at least get you out of the cold for the night and see what we can do from there."

I have heard others raise the question,"How can we lock our churches when God's people are freezing to death on the streets?" Not to mention our empty school buildings, convents, and seminary dorms. Maybe there's a message here. Why shouldn't our churches (and other church properties) serve as sanctuaries for those who have nowhere else to go? Regarding the churches, at least, there are serious considerations to allowing people in off the street at night; but none, I think, that do not have relatively simple solutions. They just require sacrifice. In a project such as opening the doors to the church at night, theft is not the most serious problem. Many sacristies I've seen have safes; or, if not, valuable items could be carried into the rectory after use. In these evil times there is also the possibility of desecration, vandalism and blasphemy to consider. But meanwhile, those things are happening to the Real Presence of Christ in His homeless people. It would be imprudent to let street people in unattended without providing some sort of supervision or community structure. Also, those who would desecrate a church seldom pick an occupied one. Something is required of us by our Lord. With a little reflection on the Gospels objections quickly dissolve. We are the Church. We have no more right to put locks on our hearts than on our buildings.

My proposal: Reinstitute Perpetual Adoration. Teams of volunteers could sign up to keep watch with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and with Our Lord as He is Present in our poor. Simultaneously. (Was our contemplation ever supposed to be separate from our action?) This would require sacrifice and commitment, but we would have holier parishes, and God only knows how our meager efforts in faith would be blessed and multiplied. Discomfort? Sacrifice? What did Jesus do for us? 

With very little effort parishioners could be given a brief training session in crisis intervention by other parishioners who are professionals in the various helping professions; with resources available for any serious problems beyond the competency of the non-professional. If people with those skills were not available in the parish, I'm sure the archdiocesan pastoral resources could provide personel willing to give brief seminars. 

‍ The above proposal, building on Mr. Maguire's idea, is not a cure-all but neither is it undoable, or too expensive, (Not doing something is very expensive) and not without problems, but nothing that creative and inspired Catholic people couldn't solve. Such a program would make no pretensions at being professional care (but could arrange referrals for those seeking it). The idea is simply to get people out of the cold or out of danger. 

Cardinal Law showed great faith and commitment to the Gospel by offering the medical resources of the archdiocese free of charge so that no woman need have an abortion because of economic reasons. What is money compared to a human life? What is the cost of some heat and minimal lighting, and some volunteer hours, compared to the risk of people freezing to death on our streets? The cold secular world that is freezing out so many who are not even financially poor, yet are starved for the Gospel of Love, may look upon Catholics and other Christians and say once again, "See how they love one another!" This is evangelization. At least Bethlehem had a stable. At least the Good Samaritan had an inn to take his charge to. Let us not lock Jesus out of the Church.

© 1988 John Mallon