His Vulnerable Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

March 16, 2016

She is one of the most vulnerable women I have met thus far. A fellow homeless friend of hers brought her over to me on the street outside Planned Parenthood, where I was handing out information about alternative free resources for pregnant women.

Sheila* was petite, very sweet and timid. Staring at the ground as she spoke, Sheila affirmed that she was indeed about 3 months pregnant. “Usually I would be happy to be pregnant, but it’s hard living on the street. I don’t do drugs. I’m a good person. I’m dirty, but I’m not a bad person. Look, I’ve been abused.” Pulling up the sleeve of the grungy oversized green jacket she was wearing, she exposed a couple frightening scars on her arm. “My husband doesn’t want me,” she continued in a monotone voice. “I don’t know why. I’m not that ugly.”

“No, Sheila,” I interjected. “You are beautiful.”

We spoke for a few more minutes. I gave Sheila a pink plastic rosary. Her face lit up as she immediately put it around her neck.

“People tell me to go to a shelter. But it’s a scary there. So I sleep outside. A nice lady gave me some new clothes and a Bible, but someone stole my cart when I was sleeping. They took everything. I talk to people of God all the time. My husband tells me not to, but I do anyway. Everyone else might leave me, but I know Jesus will never leave me. I always have Jesus.”

I shared with Sheila about the Sisters of Life, who might be able to help in her very difficult situation. She agreed to speak to them if I called. But it was early in the day, and the Sisters did not initially answer their phone. Sheila looked like she was going to walk away, telling me that she would go there later. I knew she didn’t have a phone and interiorly questioned her capacity to make it to Manhattan alone.

Trying to stall, I invited her to pray with me. Sheila closed her eyes and put her small hand firmly on my arm – almost like she was holding on for life. We began to pray. Suddenly, my phone rang. It was the Sisters! I stood nearby while Sheila explained her situation. Her voice cracked as tears began to roll down her face. My heart ached for this poor woman.

All of a sudden, Sheila handed the phone back to me and began to walk away. “Hello?” said the confused Sister on the other end. Still holding the phone, I followed Sheila and instinctively grabbed her hand. Sheila simply moved away and kept repeating, “I’ll get there. I’ll get there,” until she disappeared down the sidewalk toward the subway station.

I don’t know the conclusion to this story, and maybe I never will. I pray for Sheila and all the other vulnerable pregnant women living on the streets. I only know with absolute certainty, like Sheila, that Jesus will never leave them alone.

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

His Dying Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

March 11, 2016

I had never met this woman in my life. And all of sudden, here I was at her most significant hour – the moment of her death.

I had stopped in the hospital chapel yesterday to pray before beginning my rounds. Before leaving the chapel, I chatted briefly with the priest chaplain there. He mentioned the name of a woman, Maritza*, that I could visit. She was staying on the seventh floor, and she was dying.

“She’s not alert, but maybe you could pray the Divine Mercy chaplet with her. Pray for her peace at the time of death,” Father suggested. I was touched when he spontaneously gave me a blessing as we parted – “for your mission!” I headed straight for the seventh floor.

I found Maritza’s room and peeked in. I approached her bed next to the window, where she appeared to be sleeping. Maritza was an older, but not elderly, woman. I noticed a small cross tattoo on her arm. She was breathing through a ventilator.

I began to pray silently for a few minutes. Suddenly, Maritza opened her eyes and stared at me for a few minutes. I smiled, introduced myself and held up the rosary I was using to pray. It didn’t even occur to me until now that Maritza may not have understood English.

I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet out loud and noticed Maritza shift her gaze intently to a point across the room.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion…

She licked her dry lips.

…have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Maritza struggled a little to breathe.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion…

Her head turned toward me and we just looked at each other.

…have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Then – I saw Jesus.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion…

I can’t describe it fully. But as I gazed at Maritza, I saw Jesus. I saw Him hanging on the Cross. I saw Him struggling to breathe. I saw His Face, tired from the struggle. I saw the strange surrender written in His eyes. I saw His dying Face. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

…have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Maritza closed her eyes. She turned her head. She sighed and her weary body seemed to settle into the bed. Her breathing slowed.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion…

I leaned over to see if Maritza’s chest was rising and falling. Something about the noise of the ventilator seemed different. I reached out and put my warm hand on hers. It felt cool.

…have mercy on us and on the whole world.

I held Maritza’s hand for a minute and entrusted her to Jesus. Awed, I thanked Jesus that I was the one privileged to be here with her so that she would not die alone. The sacredness and peacefulness of that moment is indescribable. It was like time had stopped so that eternity could begin.

And for Maritza – it had.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus, I trust in You.

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

His Suffering Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

March 3, 2016

Shana* is a bright young woman and a very devoted single mom. She lost her own mother at a young age. Her dad dealt with his grief by becoming an alcoholic. Now the father of Shana’s child neglects them both. She has not had an easy life.

Shana is beautiful and sweet. There are very few people in her life that she is able or willing to trust. She is urgently in need of unconditional love and healing. We have had the privilege of getting to know her in the shelter for over a year now.

Shana is one of the few Catholics we know. Even though, like many other Catholics, her religious formation is limited, this fact alone made me feel bonded to her in a particular way from the beginning.

Our conversations often leave me without any words. We listen to her describe her pain, her suffering, her attempts to “just stay positive”. We read Scripture with her, do our best to point her to Jesus, and simply remind her that she is loved. Despite all the circumstances that threaten to obscure the Father’s love, that love remains a Fact.

It’s true, Shana.

He’s real. He’s faithful. He loves you.

I promise.

Sometimes my words start to sound empty.

But His Word is never empty.

Several months ago, we were having a visit with Shana. At the end of our time, I remembered a blessed crucifix I was carrying in my bag. We had actually planned to give it to another special young woman that day, but had just discovered that she had moved from the shelter. I pulled the crucifix out and asked Shana if she might want it – a reminder that Jesus has “been there” and that He is there, always, in all her suffering.

I removed it from the box and handed it to her. Shana received it and said softly, “This is so beautiful! I never had anything like this before….Thank you. Thank you so much.”

That crucifix now hangs on her wall.

And His love speaks louder than words.

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

His Thirsty Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

February 24, 2016

I met him on a muggy July evening. I was perched on a wooden park bench with a few other LAMP Missionaries. Drowsy summer twilight gilded the trees and long shadows stretched across the grass. A few die-hard hippies played Beatles’ music on the bench across from me, laughing occasionally at their own amateur attempts at harmony. I only half-listened as I lazily observed the other people meandering through Central Park.

An older gentleman in a faded red shirt was loudly trying to sell “WATER! ICE COLD WAAATERRR!” With just a few plastic bottles left in his hand, he decided to take a break on another bench near me.

I don’t know why he stood out in particular. Something about his earnest attempts to make a few bucks. Something about how he suddenly got still and quiet when he sat down.

“Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well” (John 4:6).

The man looked tired. He was sweaty. He was probably thirsty.

I try to carry Scripture tracts with me no matter where I’m going. It’s a habit I acquired from serving with LAMP. One of the cards we consistently hand out reads, “You are precious in God’s eyes” (cf. Isaiah 43: 4). More than any other Scripture quote, this one seems to speak deeply to the heart of the recipient. The fact is that we each need to receive this simple truth – over and over again.

I glanced over at the man and dug a card out of my bag. Getting up, I approached him. He looked up, startled.

“Hi,” I smiled. (What a precious Face You have, Lord.) “I don’t need a water, but I want to give you something.”

The astonishment on his worn face grew as I handed him the small red card. He held it in his hand as he read the message.

“What’s your name?” I inquired.

“Junior,” he responded softly, as we shook hands. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Tucking the card in his shirt pocket and holding his hand there for a moment, he looked up again, “I’m always going to keep this next to my heart.”

I returned to my bench, so touched by this humble man. A minute later, I could not resist looking over at him again.

Junior was hunched over now, and he was weeping.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4: 13 – 14)

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

His Kind Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

February 12, 2016

Daniel* lives in the narrow entrance to a popular subway station in the heart of Manhattan. He is a United States Marine Corps veteran with half a leg to prove it. He owns a guitar named “Sandy” – a gift given by a friend after an original instrument was stolen. Daniel spends his day sharing his eclectic musical talent with passers-by. On the day we met, his open guitar case was full of loose change and even a few precious dollar bills. And something in his face lit up when I asked him for a quick performance. Even with a broken ‘A’ string – he’s good.

Another LAMP missionary and I were visiting persons on the street that day, and Daniel was one of the first people we met. His scruffy appearance, as is so often the case, concealed a very tender-hearted, kind man. As Daniel responded to our greeting, I suddenly noticed that half his face was swollen. Literally black and blue. The black eye poorly hidden behind his sunglasses was the unfortunate result of a recent brawl.

We told Daniel we just came by to say hello and to offer to pray with him if so desired. Daniel shared that he was actually Catholic, and even knew a priest from the local parish. He treasured a gift from this same priest – a wooden Rosary that Daniel always wore. He said it made him feel safe and protected. Sadly, the Rosary broke during the confrontation the night before. Daniel reached deeply into the pocket of his camouflage shorts, and showed us the one thing he had somehow managed to salvage – the small wooden cross.

We offered Daniel an inexpensive black plastic Rosary as a temporary replacement. With tremendous gratitude and reverence, he placed it around his neck, made the sign of the Cross, and kissed it.

One thing about Daniel particularly touched me. After inviting him to pray, Daniel said that he would like to pray for peace in the world, and for all children. He mentioned the news of the recent shooting in South Carolina, and then he just choked up. In a simple, pure-hearted, almost child-like way, Daniel stated, “That really hurt my feelings.” After a few silent moments, he spoke again softly, “I don’t understand. It’s just so easy to be kind.”

His words and sensitivity surprised me. If I had passed Daniel a year ago, I would have done simply that: passed Daniel. I might have glanced at him with pity. Or I might have avoided him out of embarrassment. And then I would have boarded the subway.

Instead, by simply stopping to share a few words, I was gifted with an unforgettable encounter. By pausing to acknowledge Daniel, I was inspired by the gentle humanity of a beautiful brother in Christ. And by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead, I was privileged to pray for peace in the world and protection for all children with someone who is striving to walk the same path as me on this common journey to our Father’s house.

After praying together, we offered Daniel a buttered roll for a snack. He graciously declined, explaining that someone had already bought him breakfast that day. “I wouldn’t want to take it and just have it go bad. Give it to someone who really needs it instead,” he responded.

It’s just so easy to be kind. So easy.

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

His Grateful Face

THE FACE OF MERCY: Stories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

February 3, 2016

James* lives in a hospital in Harlem. He is one of the first residents I met there, and one of the few Catholics. In his slightly slurred speech, James will readily inform you why he is here.

“Do you know why I’m here? Heart-attack. You know why? My mom committed suicide. Suicide. My dad died. Cancer. My mom got depressed and she committed suicide.”

James is frank and open. He also has very poor short-term memory. Every week we have the same conversation – several times in a row. He will tell me that he used drugs and drugs are bad. He wants to know what time it is – every two minutes. He wants to know what channel I like to watch on TV at home.

Me: “Well, James, I don’t really watch TV.”

James: “Never?!”

Me: “Well…no, not really.”

James: “What about music? Do you like music?”

Me: “Yeah, I like music.” (“What kind of music?”)

James: “What kind of music?”

Me: “Oh, all different kinds.” (“Michael Jackson?”)

James: “Michael Jackson?”

Me: “Sure, I like some Michael Jackson.” (“Do you know what I like? Donna Summers. And disco music.”)

James: “Do you know who I like?”

Me: “Who?”

James: “Donna Summers. I like Donna Summers and Michael Jackson. And disco music. Dancing music.”

Our redundant conversation continues and repeats itself. And as the months pass, our routine Friday afternoon visit becomes strangely enjoyable.

“I need you to call the nurse. I pooped. I pooped.”

“Okay, let’s pray first and then you can call the nurse. Who do you want to pray for?”

(I already know the answer but this is my favorite part of our routine.)

“Linda, my wife. Jimmy, my son. And Donald, my godfather.”

“Okay, three Hail Mary’s. And one more for you. For James.”

James smiles and watches me and struggles to make an uncoordinated sign of the cross with his stiff muscles. I am always amazed that he remembers how to pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.

That is a typical visit with James. But one particular Friday stands out.

I walked into James’s room and was startled to see him actually dressed and sitting in his wheelchair, eating lunch. Little flecks of cooked carrot decorated his stubbly chin. And he wanted to go to church.

James often asks me to go to church. It’s part of our weekly script, and I always explain to him (somewhat apologetically, somewhat guiltily, somewhat relieved) that “church” is over for that day and he’s still in bed and not dressed. Maybe someone can take him to church on Sunday?

I’ve been told that the nurses typically find it difficult to get James ready. I’m not sure of the whole story, but I don’t press the issue. The unfortunate result is that James does not often get to visit the chapel. But today, watching James clumsily transport peas and carrots to his mouth, I have a strange rush of affection.

“James, I am so sorry that it’s too late to go to church. But if the nurse says it’s okay, after lunch, do you want to go down and just visit Jesus in the chapel?”

“Yes! I’m finished with lunch! I want to go!”

I check things out with the nurse, who says there’s no problem, but warns me that James might yell in the chapel. I don’t have a problem with that. Right?

I wheel James into the elevator and then to the small hospital chapel. I smile at his excitement and wonder when James last got out of bed and left his room. I feel like we’re going on a field trip! When we slip into the chapel, Father is actually in the middle of celebrating a private Mass. We are the only two visitors. I park James’ wheelchair next to me.

James is silent and attentive. Every few minutes he leans over and respectfully and loudly whispers, “Pssst…thank you. Thank you for bringing me. Thank you so much.” Because we missed most of the Mass, we don’t receive Holy Communion. But after the final prayer, Father approaches James and asks him if he would like to go to confession. James eagerly replies yes, and I barely exit the chapel before he begins confidently proclaiming his sins.

When the two are finished, I pray next to James while he receives Jesus in Holy Communion. I am humbled by our Lord’s patience with my resistance, and by James’ gratitude to be in His Presence.

As we ride the elevator back upstairs, James is exuberant. “Today was a great day. I went to church. And got the Bread. And went to confession and I told Father that I swore and…”

“That’s okay, James! You don’t have to tell me what you told Father. And I’m so glad we could go to church today too.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. This is a great day. What’s your name again? Thank you so much. When are you coming back? Next week? What day? What time? What time is church? Will you check if I can go back to church? Thank you again. Today was a great day. See you next week! How do you get home? The subway? How’s the subway? Dirty? Does it still have spray paint? Do me a favor. Get home safe.”

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza

The Face of Mercy

THE FACE OF MERCYStories and Reflections from the streets of New York

“Jesus Christ reveals the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Pope Francis)

Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His Face.” (Psalm 27)

I am a missionary with LAMP Catholic Ministries. I came because I was at a transition point in my life, and I wanted to grow. I wanted to learn how to better relate to others. I wanted to become more passionate about Jesus. I wanted to learn something from the poor.

What I have experienced is Christ. I have glimpsed His Face. His suffering Face. His joyful Face. His grateful Face. His sincere Face. His hungry Face. His lonely Face. His transparent Face. His simple Face. His kind Face. His poor Face. His humble Face. His transfigured Face. His radiant Face. His Face full of faith, hope, and love.

In other words, I have seen the Face of Mercy.

What follows is an attempt at a description of the features of the Face of Christ that I am slowly beginning to recognize. This is the Face that He has graciously begun to reveal to me.

All is gift. I write this as an expression of my gratitude for the gift of this time, and for all those persons – for each face – I have been privileged to encounter.

One morning, I was in the Port Authority bus terminal with another LAMP missionary, inviting the various homeless persons there to our weekly fellowship at Holy Cross Church. We approached a tall disheveled man wearing a backpack. After first introducing ourselves, we asked his name. His response? “It doesn’t matter.”

I write this also in honor of all those who feel they do not matter – those whose faces are lost in a sea of people and no longer have a name. When he visited New York in September 2015, Pope Francis noted how “so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city.” But Christ gives each of us a name. And a face.

I now know that man’s name, and I hope that I never forget it.

His name is Christ.

His Face is Christ.

He is Christ.

February 2, 2016 – Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy – Bronx, New York

– LAMP Missionary Kirsten Goza