It is always a surprise when we run into our friend Vlad. Since he lives on the streets, he doesn’t always have a regular spot, and he always seems to be up to something new, chasing a new adventure or idea. The first time we had a solid conversation with Vlad, we talked for almost an hour about different books and movies he loves, especially The Lord of the Rings. Vlad exhumed such an adventurous and childlike spirit in our conversations, and our friendship quickly took root.
One afternoon, my team and I began to head down to the main boulevard. It was frigid and cold out that day, so we bundled up and attempted to embrace the weather. As we walked further, we recognized Vlad from a distance, in only several layers of sweatshirts, flying his sign and looking cold. We began our conversation with knuckle bumps all around and, very characteristically, Vlad repeatedly asked each of us “How are you doing, you cool?” He was eating a sandwich at the time, which he ended up dropping on the street, though he didn’t seem to mind; he was completely attentive to our conversation. As we caught up, I could tell that he had been struggling with this winter; with the cold, the loneliness, and just a sense of being lost and unsure of the next step. In an earlier conversation, he shared his excitement to embrace the cold weather, but now he shared that things were harder than he expected and the cold was getting to him. I could see discouragement in his demeanor, so I asked him what has been giving him hope. He shared with us that his daily prayer has simply been, “give me the grace for tomorrow.” I immediately related to Vlad’s prayer, for my own heart had been wrestling with similar sentiments.
I too try to avoid loneliness, the cold, and I grasp for clarity.
All I can ask of the Lord is help me through these seemingly hopeless moments. Sometimes the only source of comfort and consolation in these moments of searching are found with the Blessed Mother; her tenderness and motherly gaze have been healing in my own life.
So I tried to offer this gift of our Blessed Mother to Vlad. We had Miraculous Medals in our backpack, so I offered him one and began to explain what it was. We talked about how she wants to protect him, and whenever he feels alone or that he needs something he can turn to the Blessed Mother. We placed it in his hands and he gazed upon it with wonder before slipping it over his head. He received this gift as a child would–gratefully and open to the possibility to be helped.
Our conversation came to a close and we gave him another knuckle bump and walked away.
As we crossed the street, I turned back and caught sight of Vlad again. He was standing in the turning lane between stopped cars, clutching the Miraculous Medal, holding it with both hands extended out towards him, eyes closed, whispering something under his breath. He seemed to be in his own world, but I could tell he was praying. Vlad, in his simplicity, immediately grasped the hope that Christ offers through the simple sacramental of a miraculous medal. I was astounded at his faith: He was like the seed on good soil and sprang forth from the ground.
Vlad was aware of and connected to the reality of his need, of his ache for protection. Much like Vlad, many of our poor brothers and sisters on the streets of Baltimore have taught me this. In their poverty they have few distractions to the ache that we all experience, which is ultimately an ache for union with God. The world provides us with so many distractions: technology, the false connection of social media, the consumerist culture, toxic individualism, and so much more. The world feeds us with the lies that we are in control and we can and must provide for ourselves. These distractions prevent us from accepting our identity as the Lord’s adopted children. On the other hand, Christ beckons to us,
“Let the children come to me… for such belongs to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
When we are poor children, we are aware of our need for Christ’s healing, for such is our desire. When we accept our identity as children who need a Good Father, we long to dwell in the Most Sacred Heart of Christ. Here our aching souls can have confidence in His Providence and tender care. In contrast, when we turn to the false promises of the world and say ‘yes’ to our senses and base desires, we risk being enslaved by a lesser love. This is ultimately the path of loneliness.
Let our motivation in all things be the love of Him who heals. This is the disposition we are called to-that of a child. A child is aware of his or her own poverty, weakness and utter dependence on someone stronger. We must not remain in a gaze fixed on our poverty, but remain aware of it, so that in our gaze fixed on the most good and the most perfect God, we are assured prosperity and new life. Such is the balance of life we are called to as Christians living in the world.
This path is not easy. As for Vlad, he is on the streets, community is far from him, and loneliness is so often before him. Yet he finds the strength to persevere, not by avoiding the loneliness, but allowing it to be an opportunity to be provided for in each of his childlike needs. This way of childlike poverty is the way of Christ, and the way all Christians are called to. Vlad proves that this childlike disposition is possible, and I imagine that his quiet prayer to Our Lady revealed the same humble sentiments as this prayer from Elizabeth Elliot:
“Perhaps some future day, Lord, Thy strong hand
Will lead me to the place where I must stand
Alone, O Gracious Lover, but for Thee;
I shall be satisfied if I can see
I do not know Thy plan for years to come,
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home,
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now,
Lead on, no matter where, no matter how-
I trust in Thee.”