Brother Andre Series: Number Six

People surviving poverty sign up for some life essentials on weekday mornings at the Downtown Chapel. Some people need a heavier coat to protect them from the Portland rain. Others need clean white socks and shoes. Walking is the primary mode of transportation for many of our guests. A man whispers to a volunteer that he needs clean underwear because he could not find an open bathroom in the early morning. Socks, underwear, jeans and jackets become essential for people who live under bridges or in doorways of local businesses.

I see masks of embarrassment and fear on the faces of people who ask for such personal items. No person should have to inquire to strangers for such intimate bits and pieces of hygiene and clothing. These awkward moments are very humbling for so many people. These overwhelming situations become an opportunity for volunteers to enter into people’s suffering and listen to their stories. These instances have the potential not for rash judgment and condemnation, but of genuine conversation and real relationship.

Brother Andre expressed his reliance on members of Holy Cross by asking for the basics of life. His black religious habit that he always wore was threadbare. He never wanted to spend money on himself. The soles of his shoes were worn out and he only reluctantly accepted new ones. Brother Andre’s room was decorated with a single bed, a wooden chair and crucifix. He was quoted often, “There’s no point in seeking material comfort because it’s more difficult, then, to follow God’s way, as one should.”

Brother Andre’s ideas about material belongings were not just pious, scrupulous notions. He continued to live from his upbringing of poverty and suffering. He wanted to model his religious life on people who are forced to ask for the essentials of life in order to survive. He needed to live the struggle of finding a coat that fit him and shoes that would survive the winter. Andre humbly desired to open his life to the grace of God. He timidly relied on God for everything, including every material possession. He depended on God’s grace in such practical matters so he could be an instrument of God’s greater physical and spiritual healing for all the strangers who knocked on his door.

I struggle with the meaning of my many material possessions. I am still learning to rely on God and trust in providence. My teachers are people who line up under my bedroom window every day waiting patiently to change out of their wet clothing or get their toenails trimmed or their hair cut. The example of Brother Andre challenges me to live among our parishioners and friends struggling to ask us for their daily needs. I learn slowly to trust God for all things, to humbly ask for all I need in order to love and serve.

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