I blasted out of my office with a broken heart and crestfallen face. I needed a break to calm my agitated spirit.
As I took off down the street, a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk said something to me. I stopped and bent closer. “I’m sorry; I didn’t hear you,” I said.
He asked if I had any prayer needs, because he would pray for me. Have you ever had a homeless person offer you a generous gift?
Cars sped down the busy street as I asked if I could sit on the corner of the man’s sleeping bag. He invited me to do so, and I lowered myself to the down bag beside him. He took my hand and asked what I needed prayer for. I told him about the painful situation at work and asked for prayers.
He was thin, perhaps post-retirement age, and scraggly around the edges, but his eyes were lucid. He prayed a fabulous prayer with passion and grace. I held both his hands as he held mine. I bowed my head and agreed as he prayed.
When we were done, he said, “It’s the evil one who’s attacking you.”
As he said it, I knew it was true, confirmed by my prayer and discernment recently.
Who is this guy? How can he know?His rotted teeth and faint body odor were a disguise, because this was Jesus. How did he know, I asked, that I really needed prayer?“Long before you saw me, I saw you coming,” he said. “Your face said a great deal.”
In retrospect, I’m thinking about Jesus telling Nathanael that he saw him under the fig tree. I leaned against the brick wall behind us, legs outstretched, and told him a few more details of my sorrows. But not too many! I had to move on, I explained; this was just supposed to be a 10-minute break. I was so comfortable sitting in that timeless moment that it’s hard to put it into words. Now as I write this, I can only imagine what we looked like: me in my business suit and he in his worn clothing.
“I go to the Progress Church! Would you like to join us there? We’re having a great service on December 17th. . .”
“Thank you, but I already have a church community,” I said, asking his name. (He’d already asked mine for the purposes of our prayer.)
I continued to my destination a few doors down: a Catholic bookstore where I wanted to look briefly for a gift for my sister. A few minutes later I was at the checkout counter when the man came in and stood behind me. He told the cashier he wanted to exchange his new Bible for a larger print version. The bag he held contained a receipt. “What good is a Bible if I can’t read it?” he said. He’d selected the bigger print version, and I told the cashier I’d pay the difference.
During the transaction, he said that when he was a child he got to play baby Jesus in a Christmas play. And suddenly his face lit up as a new thought occurred to him. “I know! I’m going to ask Jesus for a Christmas miracle: that I not be homeless starting December 24th!”
Was Jesus asking for room in the inn, right there in the Catholic bookstore?I promised to pray that for him, and pray I’ll be heard. I returned to work; my desolation and heartache were gone. I still had a rough work schedule ahead of me, but the man’s prayers were heard on my behalf.
As I left my office that night, before I could begin my Examen, my heart flooded with the memory of that day’s encounters. I didn’t need to ask for light and the Holy Spirit; both were already there.