By Barb Arland-Fye
Hungry adults dined on loose meat sandwiches, green beans, bananas, chips, hardboiled eggs and cookies at Café on Vine in Davenport the Saturday afternoon leading into Holy Week. Four of our
group of seven volunteers worked in the dining room mingling with guests and cleaning and setting tables.
I could have volunteered in the kitchen but the dining room assignment required letting go of my fear of rejection, not an easy task. Thoughts popped into my head, “What if a guest thinks I’m annoying, intruding or that I couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to experience homelessness or poverty?”
I calmed my nerves and approached a small table where two men sat eating their meals in silence. “How are you doing?” I asked one of the men, who seemed more receptive to a stranger attempting to start a conversation. He happily responded and shared with me his efforts to find work, a place to live, his upcoming interview with a shelter that had a room available and his beliefs regarding religion, the government and other people in his situation.
Our conversation shifted to a monologue and I sensed that God was asking me simply to listen. A friend who volunteers with people on the margins in another city told me she strives to remind herself to see Christ in others, as she sees Christ in herself. It becomes more challenging when the other person is expressing thoughts and ideas not necessarily based in reality.
As the café guest talked about his philosophy on life, the other guest sitting across from him glared at me and said something in an angry whisper that I could not understand. This happened several times and I told him politely that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. He got up from the table and left while the other man continued talking.
Another guest came to the table, set down his tray and began to eat as if it was his first meal in some time. I think the two men knew each other but I could not be certain. The newcomer agreed completely with the first guest’s opinions and both clearly expected me to accept their viewpoint as gospel truth. I told the two men I appreciated listening to what they had to say and that all of us need to listen to and respect one another’s opinions even if we disagree.
Later that day, I heard that Pope Francis, just released from the hospital, gave the homily during Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. A snippet of his message resonated with my encounter with the guests at the café. The homily (which I read online), focused on the sufferings Jesus endured out of love for us and for our salvation. The most searing of Jesus’ suffering, the Holy Father said, was when he experiences abandonment by God.
“He experienced abandonment in order not to leave us prey to despair, in order to stay at our side forever,” Pope Francis said. Even in abandonment, Jesus “continued to love” his disciples who fled and forgave those who crucified him …. “Christ, in his abandonment, stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves abandoned. For in them we see not only people in need, but Jesus himself … he is with them, abandoned … many people need our closeness, many abandoned people.”
I worried about rejection, abandonment by guests at the café without taking into account the abandonment some of them must experience on a daily basis. In our encounters, we can assuage our sense of abandonment by being Christ to one another.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)