Posted January 18, 2012 in MH Edmonton AB:
Soup Kitchen School

by Gerard Lesage.

It all started with Nicholas (not his real name). Nicholas is an aboriginal man who comes to our soup kitchen fairly regularly, and he and I have become friends. Nicholas is very tall and handsome, and he has long, black hair. He is often intoxicated when he comes to the dining room.

One day, I went out to our back lane to empty the garbage, and there was Nicholas. He had been badly beaten up; one eye was swollen shut, and there was blood all over him. I said, "Nicholas, what happened to you?"

"Four kids jumped me."

"You look awful,"

Holding up a bottle, he said: "But they didn’t get my beer!"

That evening, when I went to the chapel, I was thinking about this incident. I was asking myself, "What’s my ‘beer’? What is it that I hang on to for dear life? What is this thing that will hurt me, but which I won’t let go of?"

In time, the answer came: resentment.

I’d been carrying resentment against a particular person for quite a while. As I sat with this thought, I was reminded of a homily Fr. David had given on resentment.

He told us that in Latin, the word, resentment, if you break it down, literally means, "to smell again." So resentment is like smelling again, over and over, and somehow it harms you.

This was the first step in a journey the Lord led me on during my first few months in Marian Centre, a journey in which the Brothers Christopher,* though they didn’t know it, were my teachers.

That incident sat inside me and at some point, another man, Ralph (not his real name), started coming to our soup kitchen.

Ralph is probably in his early twenties, and he grew up Orthodox. Ralph has some form of mental illness—I don’t know what it is—but he is very, very gentle and a very good man.

During the noon meal we serve the Brothers Christopher, our chapel, which is above the dining room, is always open.

Very early on, Ralph discovered this chapel, and often he comes, not for the meal, but just to spend some time there. When he is finished praying, he comes downstairs and says "hi." Sometimes he stays for a bowl of soup, but his first stop is always the chapel.

On Monday evenings when AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings take place in our dining room, we lock all the doors except that one.

But one particular Monday evening, a newly arrived live-in volunteer, a young woman, went to the chapel to pray, and thinking the chapel door had been locked by mistake, she left it open.

One of the staff saw Ralph there and also our volunteer and came to tell me about it. (I’m the director of the house.)

So I went to check it out. The man sitting in the front pew had very curly, very disheveled hair and a backpack. Obviously he was one of our Brothers Christopher who usually come for a meal.

I went up front to see who it was, and there was Ralph sitting there praying.

I thought to myself: "Do I let him stay, or do I ask him to leave?" I figured it would be safer for our guest if he were not there, so I decided to ask him to leave.

I went up to him—and this is the kind of guy he is—he wouldn’t let me say anything because "you don’t talk in the chapel." So I signaled him to follow me. When we got outside, I said, "Ralph, there is an AA meeting going on downstairs, and normally this door is locked, and so I’m going to have to ask you to leave."

Ralph said, "Everybody is always kicking me out no matter where I go. Everybody is always asking me to leave. I have nowhere to go."

Though I was starting to feel bad, I still said, "I’m really sorry, but I really do have to ask you to go."

Just as he was walking out the door—I don’t know why I did this—I said, "Ralph, don’t forget to say a prayer for me."

He turned around, looked at me, and said, "There’s no time like the present." Making the Sign of the Cross, he prayed, "God, Gerard is a very good man. Take care of him." Then he made the Sign of the Cross again.

Here I was kicking him out, and he was praying for me! I thought about this, and it hit me that this was a lesson for me, a lesson about praying for my enemies.

This was step two in my journey. I started praying for the person I was resenting.

Then came step three. One day, during the noon meal, I was standing at the entrance of our dining room greeting people and saying good-bye to them. One of the staff came to me and said, "There is a situation going on that doesn’t look too good."

So I went into the dining room and sitting at two different tables, a bit apart from each other, were a Caucasian man and two aboriginal men throwing insults and threatening to fight each other.

Assessing the situation, I saw that the Caucasian man, the one who was by himself, had finished eating. So I went up to him and asked, "Are you finished eating?" When he said "yes," I said, "Can I ask you to leave? This situation is not looking very good." He said, "Sure. No problem."

Thinking the problem was solved, I turned and walked away.

That man must have done something or said something as he passed the two others, because the next thing I heard was the sound of chairs being pushed back. Quickly turning, I saw the two men getting up to go after the man who was leaving.

I quickly put myself between the two parties. Facing one of the aboriginal men, I put my hand on his shoulder. This guy had huge, hard shoulders and could have knocked me out in two seconds flat. But I kept my hand there and I said, "Look at me," because all he was doing was looking over my shoulder at his opponent behind me.

I kept putting myself in his line of vision and saying, "Look at me." I knew that if I didn’t get his attention, it would be useless to say anything.

When he finally looked at me, I said, "I’ve asked this guy to leave. Everything is okay. You are okay. You can stay. It’s not a problem."

So, they sat down, and again I thought it was finished. Again I walked away from them with my back turned.

The next thing I knew, the two guys were running out the door after the other guy. Just before they got to the door—you have to go up five stairs to get there—I called to them.

"Stop right now! You get back in here and eat your soup!"

They stopped in their tracks, and they came back and finished their soup. Just like two little kids.

That evening I sat in the chapel remembering the lesson I had learned before —to pray for the person I resented. I was praying for him but at the same time, I was allowing the resentment to go around in my head. I thought I was praying, but I wasn’t really.

At some point I looked at the icon of Christ in the chapel and I heard Him say in my heart, "Look at me!"

That’s when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been looking at him. I had been looking at my resentment.

So I stopped and I looked, really looked, at Jesus in the icon. And suddenly my whole attitude towards the person I resented was changed.

Just as the man in our dining room needed to look at me before he could hear me, so, too, I needed to look at Jesus. I needed to look at him and to rest in his gaze.

My journey, of course, is ongoing. And all along it, the Brothers Christopher continue to be a kind of catechism for me—and not just about resentment.

* Catherine Doherty’s word for the men we serve in our soup kitchens. It means "Christ-brearer."


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