Back in the 1980s there was a man who used to preach in Harvard Square about Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation. One afternoon as I was passing through the square I heard his familiar voice and it suddenly came to me: “We should be doing that. My brothers and I should be here as people come up out of the subway, preaching about God’s love like friars in the middle ages in Europe.” My brothers in my religious community, however, when I suggested to them that we go out into the streets of Cambridge to preach, didn’t think much of my idea. I didn’t have the courage to go out there on my own.
A few weeks ago, on my day off, I was out campaigning for a friend who is running for state representative. (And let me make it clear right here that I was doing this as an individual and in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the diocese or church.) I handed out cards and talked to folks in an elderly housing complex, went door to door in a neighborhood ringing doorbells and chatted with a woman working in her garden. I’d worked on political campaigns before but I had never done anything quite like this, just going up to people I didn’t know and starting to talk to them about my friend. It was a little unnerving.
Late in the afternoon we entered a housing complex in North Cambridge. A woman in the office gave us permission and we began ringing bells and approaching people on the sidewalks. Most people looked at me a little curiously in my religious habit and cross, some seemed wary, but most listened to what we had to say.
At one point we approached a young man sitting on a bench. I gave him a card and my friend stood talking to him while I went after a group of women and children who had just turned the corner. After I told the women about my friend and why he was running for office, he called me back to the young man on the bench. The guy wanted me to pray with him. The three of us sat on the bench in the September sun, and prayed together. When I had finished the prayer, he thanked me, and off we went.
It felt good to be there praying with the man. It felt like I was where I belong, where God wanted me to be, out in the streets with people I had never met before, witnessing to God’s love and comfort. I think it’s where God probably wants all of us.
That’s my story. I’d like to hear your stories, stories of when you have witnessed to God’s love, out on the street, with people you have never met before. Somehow the sharing of those stories might give us all courage. Let’s try something new.
M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE
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