Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Presence of the Poor and the Presence of Christ

Melvin (Photograph by Eileen Clynes, New England School of Photography)
On a door stoop in Kenmore Square near Boston University and Fenway Park, one could almost always find Melvin. And if he were gone for a little while, his stuff might still be piled up there, neatly folded and organized. Melvin has been a fixture there for at least the few years that I've been at BU. 

Sadly, I never had much of a conversation with Melvin. I'd pass by, drop some money into his donation cup or provide him with some leftover pizza. The other day I went out for pizza nearby to Melvin's spot and the person I was with said, "Did you see that? There's a sign on the stoop that says, RIP Melvin." I regret now that I never took the time to know Melvin. 

On more than one occasion, I was touched to see students from the BU Catholic Center sitting with Melvin, conversing with him, laughing with him, arms around his shoulder, and having a great time. For many of us who passed him by on a daily basis--busy going to lunch or home from lunch--Melvin was an opportunity to give to the poor. But for some of the students at the BU Catholic Center, Melvin was a person. He was a sign of God's presence in the world. In taking time to talk to Melvin, those students encountered Christ. Perhaps some of them never gave Melvin money. But, they gave him love. And, from the looks of them as they conversed with him, Melvin gave them love too. Melvin seemed to love that door stoop. It makes me wonder now if his main reason for being there was not to beg for money or food, but to beg for love, for human contact, and for friendship. Perhaps what he was truly begging for was to be part of our lives.

Come Monday morning, students will be hustling to and from classes, buses, trolleys, and taxis will be making their way through Kenmore Square, and people on their way to and from lunch will rush by the stoop where Melvin sat and greeted people. A presence will be gone. Whenever I saw Melvin, I thought about him as being "the poor." But with his passing, I have a sense that Melvin was the rich one and those of us who didn't take the time to know him were really the poor. 

Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Gospel this Sunday is about a man named Bartimaeus who sat at the side of the road, begging. I will offer my Mass for our Melvin and pray that he who only possessed a small door stoop in this life will now be housed in the mansions of heaven. I will also pray that more of us become like the students at the BU Catholic Center and will not be blind to the persons whom God places in our path.


  1. Thank you Fr. Barns for the reminder. God loves us all. We must do likewise.

  2. Sad but beautiful.