Foxes have holes


Homeless men asleep on church benches

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

My worlds of priesthood and medicine don’t often collide, but just and again it happens – usually it’s funny; sometimes it’s sad; just now and again it’s inspiring.

Just recently, I came across in this very Church one of my patients who, he wouldn’t mind my saying, is homeless and has quite a lot of both physical and mental health problems. And it happened that he had lain down to rest on one of the benches in this Church. Little did he know that I would shortly be saying the Mass.

When I found him, he was stretched out on one of the benches, with all his bags around him. But as soon as he recognised me, he was very embarrassed. He jumped off the bench, thought to run away and then remembered all his bags left on the bench, so started hurrying to pack them up, all the time shouting apologies to me. I reassured him that, so far as I could see, he was doing no harm to me, to anyone else, or to the church in general. And that he was just as entitled to a nice little nap on the benches as anyone else who has to listen to my homilies.

He was effusive in his thanks - so much so that (and I apologise for my dirty mind) I became a little suspicious of his motives. The church was empty, so he couldn’t be here to beg. The poor box was empty so he couldn’t be here to rob. The heating was off, so he couldn’t be here for the warmth. It wasn’t raining, so he couldn’t be here for the shelter. There were stonemasons with jackhammers at work, so he couldn’t be here for the quiet. So why had he come?
Being nosy like that, I asked him. And he replied, “Churches are the only places I don’t get laughed at.”

We live in a cynical and satirical world where laughter is a weapon of cultural war. Humour is when I laugh at myself; satire is when I laugh at other people, and sometimes our comedy is a little too full of satire.

The Hebrew traditions of our Old Testament tell us that God laughs a lot, but that he never laughs at anyone. Let us pray that we may continue to do likewise and that this Church may forever be a place where anyone can come and have a prayer and have a laugh and know that they will never be laughed at.

Paul O'Reilly SJ