Joy in the Inner City

by Steve Héroux

This mission house of Madonna House serves the people who, for one reason or another, find themselves on the streets or in dire straits.


I see Marian Centre as a place of joy. Actually, it’s an exchange of joy. We on the staff bring joy to each other. The volunteers, too, bring that precious gift to our house. We share it with them and with the men and women who visit Marian Centre. It’s amazing how much the people who are in dire straits can bring us joy just by their coming to us, but it’s true.

Though we give what we can of practical help, we do not try to solve their problems. I like to think of us as grandparents—and not because we are older than they are—(though some of us are.)

It’s that grandparents often don’t have to do anything for their grandchildren except spoil them. They don’t have to worry about being parents anymore; they can just show their grandchildren lots of love. Then they can send them back to their parents.

A lot of the people who come to us are in life situations that are extremely painful, desperate, hopeless—you name it—and we can just lavish on them the love of the Father without worrying about changing them, without wanting to or having to fix their lives.

We just lavish love upon them any way we can in our own very little ways.

This is not a program. It very simply and organically happens as relationships form, and delight in each other grows.

Some people might say that that’s not good enough. I don’t know. Only God knows that. I don’t want to be the one to decide that and weigh the pros and cons of this way of doing things. I just want to serve. And that’s one of the joys of being at Marian Centre.

(Actually, I can do that anywhere. It doesn’t matter where I am, and I don’t need to worry about the fruits or the results.)

Every day when I go to the dining room—our soup kitchen—there is joy in my heart—not the joy of Steve being there and being whatever I should be so that somebody receives something.

It’s the joy of carrying Jesus and being with him in the midst of his poor ones, his broken ones, and of receiving him in that exchange. (By the way, I’m one of the poor and broken ones. We are poor together with Jesus in our midst.)

That’s one of the great treasures of where we live. That’s one of the great joys because you meet each other as brothers and sisters, and all kinds of wonderful encounters happen. It is a privilege.

The other image I have of Marian Centre is of Veronica on the road to Calvary. Did she pull Christ out of his suffering? Did she prevent him from dying? No. She simply ran to him, wiped his face, and then vanished into history.

We’re a little bit like Veronica for our brothers and sisters who come and who are broken. We just welcome them and wipe their faces as best we can, and that doesn’t have to be with eloquent words or gestures. It’s amazing what God uses.

You can touch somebody’s heart by giving him a pair of shoes or socks or a handshake or whatever. Sometimes, you can even touch his heart by not giving him what he asks for.

Because it’s not our work. It’s God’s work in us and through us, and so, it doesn’t really matter what we do. We just put ourselves there and rejoice in the fact that God is in our midst.

The other thing that happens is that I know that when I go to my Father to pray for the people whom God puts in our lives, our Father listens and cares.

So it’s a joy to be able to go to my Father and say, “Please take care of so and so.” “Don’t forget so and so.” Or “Remember so and so. Bless him, protect him.” Whatever.

There is so much we can’t do, but our Father can.

This article was excerpted and adapted from a talk given at lunch-time spiritual reading in Combermere several years ago.

Steve, who was director of Marian Centre Edmonton for five years, is now one of the local directors of MH Combermere.