• February 28, 2017

Brooklyn: A Mysterious Joy

Our mis­sion here in the United States is one full of sur­prises. After more than ten years here in Brooklyn, we con­tinue to be amazed by the friends we meet. Sr Katie shares with us an encounter with one of her friends:

I live in a city which the recently can­on­ized Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said was the city most in need of com­pas­sion. It is tempting for me often to see only this side of the city of New York: to see only the immense lone­li­ness that so many people struggle with, to face the bureau­cracy that keeps the poorest of my friends still home­less or to accept the broken rela­tion­ships I find in so many fam­i­lies. Yet every time I sit down to write one of these let­ters to you, it’s the paradox I want to share, the one that we heard this Gaudete Sunday: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” (Isaiah 35:1)

If any place could be called a “de­sert,” I would say it’s a psy­chi­atric hos­pital. Never did I imagine that I would spend so much time vis­iting friends in such a place. Never did I imagine that I would be telling you about the life and beauty and hope I see blos­soming there. Like every big city, New York has its share of vil­lains and mon­sters, but also has its share of quiet heroes and hidden saints. One is my friend J and his grand­mother Doña V. She raised her chil­dren, then raised her grand­chil­dren, and at almost 80 years old, is still clinging to Jesus with a strength that astounds me. J is a simple guy, in the truest sense of that word. It’s refreshing and real. He’s a man of deep faith - he knows that he is held in the hand of God. He’s spent sev­eral years in this high secu­rity hos­pital, serving parole for a crime he com­mitted years ago, strug­gling with both mental ill­ness and phys­ical ill­ness. He is also full of joy. But it’s the kind of mys­ti­fying-how can this pos­sibly be-where does it come from- joy that dis­arms me.

When we went to visit him for his birthday, he was so excited to see us: “Happy Birthday to...ME!!!” he started singing, then ran into his grand­mother’s arms. His joy was con­ta­gious, and everyone around him was pulled up into it - res­i­dents and staff alike, all of whom he knows by name. I was espe­cially impressed by the staff I met there, whose kind­ness, gentle­ness and com­pas­sion over­whelmed me. As we sat down in the common room to chat, the first thing he wanted to do was pray and receive the Eucharist. So that’s what we did. As his friends came over to see what was going on, he would invite them into prayer, whether they were Catholic or not. Simply and hon­estly, he says “Our Father, who art in heaven, hal­lowed be thy name...” and he teaches me how to pray. This, then, the source of his joy - he knows he is loved. Beyond his labels, ill­nesses or mess - he is the son of his Abba. This radi­ates out from him, and opens up the space in the lives of those around him to dis­cover that same joy.

I entrust to your prayers J, and our many other friends who struggle with mental ill­ness, espe­cially those who do not have the sup­port system of friends they need to stay hopeful.

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