“Blessed be God in the ‘Poorest of the Poor.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Spirituality Year is a formation and discernment opportunity set aside for men to better discern the call to the priesthood while living in community in the Bishop Quarter House in Chicago. In February, the Spirituality Year seminarians embarked on a month-long poverty immersion trip to encounter Christ in the poor. Read the reflection below written by Kyle Berceau about his time serving at the Andre House in Arizona.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I was asked if I might share a little bit about my experience of poverty immersion that us Spirituality Year seminarians recently embarked on. It was a special month for us as from January 6 to February 3, Jim Bryant, Michael Frankiewicz, Frank Perrotta, and I (Kyle Berceau) were sent out two by two to live amongst and minister to the poor in Kansas City and Arizona.
Michael and Jim were sent to Kansas City to live the humble spirituality of two religious orders there, the ‘Little Brothers of the Lamb’ and the ‘Poor of Jesus Christ.’ Frank and I went to Arizona to help at a House of Hospitality for the Homeless called Andre House. In the context of this Spirituality Year, a year focused heavily on human formation and more specifically living in community, praying together, being introduced in a deeper way to pastoral ministry around the diocese, and learning more about the priesthood, it was an opportunity to spend a month away and really enter deeper into the poverty of spirit that Jesus calls us to and entrust ourselves in a more profound way to the providence of God. We received the details of our mission just 2 days prior to our departure with some basic instructions for what to bring (or more like what not to bring) and a plane ticket, and were off to the unknown. I will speak now more specifically from my perspective and experience.
I arrived in Arizona with me and my backpack – Bible, Breviary, books, 2 changes of clothes, and an infinite supply of money to get me through the month. By that I mean 7 dollars…the number of perfection in the Bible! God indeed did provide!
Our brothers from the Congregation of Holy Cross were very generous and most of any hygiene or other supplies I needed were in ample supply at Andre House. The day we arrived, we were thrown right into the daily operation of things, with the Core Staff away on retreat. Our responsibilities centered mostly around providing for the immediate needs of the homeless community there like handing out hygiene products or blankets or other items, and helping to facilitate meals and use of bathrooms and showers, etc.
My first task was, like St. Andre Bessette in whose name the House was founded, was to be doorman – to manage access to the building for bathrooms, showers, clothing closet, etc. Day one, first lesson: the behavior of many of these folks was rougher around the edges, I have a tendency to sensitivity and more vulnerability of heart; I quickly realized if I was going to manage that door appropriately, that wasn’t going to fly, I was going to need to grow and with the help of the Holy Spirit and St. Joseph, to step into a greater strength so as to command a presence worthy of a healthy respect and obedience from the guests. And thus God’s providence was there in the spiritual sense too; he did indeed supply the grace about as soon as he revealed to me the need, and from there the month was off to the races.
It was a very meaningful time of service for me. The Andre House is surrounded by a very condensed tent community that they minister to. Many of the guests that would spend time there struggle with some form of broken family situation, serious addiction, psychological illness, past criminal record, or other issue that can significantly demean their personal sense of dignity if not for folks like our brothers and sisters at Andre House who day in and day out strive to see and minister to Jesus alive in them. While no day is ordinary at the Andre House, at the extremes, I met experiences with seizures, knives, undirected anger/shouting and other unpredictable behavior. Yet beneath it all? People. Christ. I felt blessed this month to share in ministry of such deep and simple compassion, and it offered ample opportunity for reflection and prayer and learning about the vastness of human experience and true life in Christ.
A friend recently shared with me a quote that applies nicely here, that there are no homeless people but only individuals who are homeless. I am grateful for all the people I was able to meet, especially those with whom I got to share more personal interactions. Behind every individual there is always a story and someone worth loving, even amidst the most self-destructive of behaviors, based on the very fact that they are a child of God, one of our brothers and sisters like us. I found early on I was moved so deeply to prayer for the guests, believing so deeply in its power to heal especially in desperate circumstances, and I prayed the Lord send me people to pray for, but I regretted feeling like I pushed on a couple occasions in seeking the Lord’s courage to pray with some of the guests, rather overstepping his will. I learned as time went on rather to really cherish the gift of Presence, allowing God to lead my words and actions more fully through the prompting of the other in conversation. On a related note, many of the guests have been downtrodden in such an environment for years and it takes a highly coordinated effort across multiple areas of support in facilitating a longer-term solution to help an individual back on their feet. So again, simple presence, simple acts of kindness, a smile, seeing someone who might not otherwise be seen, talking to someone who simply needs to be heard or express themselves, sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, and perhaps we wish we could do more, but assuredly God is glorified in every one of these simple acts of presence that we make surrendered to the will of God. How beautiful each of these “little acts” is before God!
Some particular graces from the trip? How blessed I was to pray for J. seriously oppressed from crystal meth addiction and to progressively get to share conversations and friendship with him; and there was Kyle from Wilmette – I’m also Kyle from Wilmette, if that’s not the Holy Spirit talking and inviting prayer and conversation. I was blessed to get to know him, pray with, and encourage him; I thank God too for B., humbled by a body covered in tattoos from a past life that inevitably remains with him – the gift, the thanksgiving to share in the cross, the tears of our Mother’s heart, in his simple and heartbreaking words “thank you for talking to me”; and then there was T., himself stuck in heroin addiction and accompanying seizures, rushing to the side of a woman having succumbed to a seizure of her own, consoling her, caressing her head, sacrificing his own food for her, caring for her as if a most tender mother. Yes, God is in these least brothers of ours too! I rejoice knowing of the friendships that the regular Andre House staff is able to build with its guests over time as their continued small acts of kindness build a steady fount of life in the souls of some of these “least” of our brothers and sisters. I am grateful to each of the souls I met, shared an encounter with, and learned from in the process. Let us love them, let us pray for them, and let us proclaim with our Chicago Missionaries of Charity to whom we recently made a visit: “Blessed be God in the ‘Poorest of the Poor.’”
Peace and grace in our Lord Jesus Christ,