Time as Thomas
by Will Harris
Post Immersion Paper
Urban Plunge: The Church in Action
“We are not trying to imitate homelessness,” says Alan Graham, the founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, before we set off on to the streets of Austin, Texas for our Street Retreat.
What exactly were we trying to do then? We were leaving our money, phones, wallets, IDs and more behind and carrying only what little we could in a backpack, a small sleeping bag, a water bottle, and maybe a toothbrush. Alan continues to explain that we will never be able to truly understand homelessness unless we are living it; rather, we are just playing the role of Thomas the apostle. As Caravaggio imagined in his The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, we, as Thomas, are barely reaching into the wounds of Christ and grimacing and looking away in fear. We entered the streets on a sunny January day not to be homeless for two days, but to enter into relationship with those living on the streets.
While out and about on the streets of Austin, I witnessed that broken families plague those who are without a home. I meet Otis, also known as L.A., who has grown children and grandchildren out in California, but they won’t take him in. I was told about Lexi who is a sixteen year old living on the Drag by the University of Texas. Her mom lives in Austin but she doesn’t get along with her and doesn’t want to go home. I heard many stories like these which give evidence to the devastating effects of broken families, but none were as painful to hear about than the story of one man, fresh to the streets of Austin: Anthony.
Anthony, originally from Minnesota, moved down to San Antonio when he was young with his family. He grew up in a family full of Christian pastors who helped him develop a strong faith in God. However, when he came out as gay, tension with his family began and only grew. He then lost all of his stuff in a house fire a short time ago which only added to his struggles. He then left San Antonio for Austin where he had heard it is easier and cheaper to get your identification, like a Social Security card and Driver’s License, both of which he had lost in the fire. His strong faith, hope, and generosity even after everything he had been through amazed me. He told Alyssa and me that he believed that God saved him from that fire. A friend had called right as he was about to go to bed and asked if Anthony could come help him fix his computer, and begrudgingly, Anthony said yes and left the house. Forty-five minutes later the house was up in flames and basically everything he owned was lost. After rejection by his Christian family and a devastating house fire, Anthony still told us that there was no way that God does not exist that in fact he was looking after each one of us. I was and still am amazed by the strength of Antony’s faith through all of these incidents.
In addition to his faith, Anthony also seemed to live with great hope and generosity. I imagine that it is extremely difficult to keep such a positive attitude within a community full of the frustrations of life without a home but Anthony proved me wrong. He told me about the importance of generosity on the streets. For example, he ran into a man in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops on streets this winter and didn’t even hesitate in giving him his down coat; in fact, he did not even ask if the man wanted or needed it, first. Anthony explained that homeless need to show each other this respect and compassion since they are all in the same situation and can build each other up. Anthony’s trust in God continues to inspire me and has pushed to look at my life a little differently. He has encouraged me to look past the things I own to my relationships and prioritize those around me. Hopefully, I can be even a bit more like Anthony and look beyond my circumstances to be the best Son of God that I can.
Reflecting on my discussion with Anthony and other homeless people, I am realizing that there is a strong connection between the brokenness of their families and the Catholic Social Teaching principle of Living Solidarity. According to the Center for Social Concerns handout on Catholic Social Thought, Living Solidarity means that “as members of the common human family, we should strive to foster community and to live in solidarity with all our neighbors.”