The Catholic Thing
Lenten Blessing Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 12 March 2012

March 11, 2012
Dear Fr. Barron,

I watched the video link I received Friday from Word on Fire – the one about the three Lenten practices that appears on the WOF page for the My Beloved Son CD.

And I thought to myself: I’m doing well with prayer and fasting, but I could vastly improve my almsgiving.

And that made me think of “Tommy.”

Tommy (not his real name) is a poor man who attends Mass daily (as I try to) at St. Joseph’s in Bronxville, New York, certainly one of the wealthiest parishes in the archdiocese. I still don’t know much about him, but I’d always assumed he was homeless, because he seems simply to wander the streets of Bronxville, pushing along his walker when he’s not in church. And he has the puffy, flushed, and ruddy complexion of an alcoholic of the streets, although – again from my brief encounter this morning – I’m pretty sure he’s sober now and has a place to go. 

As it happens, I had a partial knee replacement three weeks ago today, and I was discharged from the hospital with a brand-new walker that, in fact, I used just once: to get from the car that brought me home from the hospital to my own front door. So when I went to Bronxville for the noon Mass today, I threw the walker into the trunk of my car. I was dropping off my younger son at the train station (on his way to work in the city), and he asked:

“What’s up with the walker, Pop?”

I explained that I intended to give it to a man who wanders Bronxville on a walker that’s seen better days.

“That’s very cool,” Jon said.

When I got to Bronxville, I saw Tommy sitting outside a Starbucks, for which I thanked God, feeling as though this truly was a moment of divine synchronicity. So I walked over (using my cane, which I also don’t really need), intending to ask him how his walker was holding up, but when I got to where he was, I saw he was asleep, his face turned up to the sun. I respect sleep, so I figured I’d catch him after Mass.

Of course, when I walked back by the Starbucks later on, Tommy was gone. And that actually made me angry. Yes, I knew there’d be other moments on other days when I might find him. But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s this: carpe diem.

Knowing that I’ve often seen him throughout the day in various places around town, I got back into my car and made a circle around the main streets looking for him. No luck on that first lap. The second time, I drove a little further in one direction, a longer loop, and then I did see him – but only after I’d moved into the wrong lane to turn to park where he was just settling onto a bench. So I took a third lap and came to the street where he sat, parked in a no-parking area (caution lights on), got out of the car, and went and sat beside him.

“How ya doin’?” he asked.

“I’m well, thanks. Say, I had knee surgery three weeks ago and got a new walker when I left the hospital. I never really needed it, and I’d like to give it to you.”

I see that his walker is much older, pretty beat up with worn front wheels, and has yellow tennis balls on the rear legs, whereas my new one has rubber caps tipped with the same sort of high-tech plastic that has replaced the meniscus cartilage between the titanium caps – femur and tibia – in my new knee.

Tommy said:

“Well . . . that’d be really great.”

So I go to the car, pop the trunk, and bring out the new walker, which I open for him.

“This looks to be set a tad higher than your old one. Do you want me to lower it?”

I pull away his old one and put the new one in his hands. He struggles to his feet, and takes a few steps on his new walker.

“No!” he says. “It’s better higher, I don’t have to hunch over.”

We sit down together on the bench in the sun.

“You go to St. Joseph’s, don’t you?” I ask.

“Everyday,” he says. “On Sundays I come to the 10:45. I’ve seen you there.”

“And I you. What’s your name?”

“Tommy. And tell me yours, so I can say a prayer for you.”

We shake hands.

“Shall I take away the old walker for you?”

“Sure. See you around, Brad.”

“God bless you, Tommy.”

As I walk to the car, popping open the trunk again and tossing in Tommy’s walker, a young mother with two kids sitting on another bench a few feet way, says to me:

“That was wonderful.”

I can only smile, because I need to get into the car, so I can cry a little without anybody seeing. I can’t recall when I’ve felt so grateful – so thankful for the grace of God that gave me a moment like this. A Lenten miracle, really. Well . . . a blessing certainly.

So, as always, thanks Fr. Barron. I think of the great observation of Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

In Christ,


Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and a senior fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute. A former Literary Editor of National Review, he is the author of six books and is a board member of Aid to the Church in Need, USA.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Frank, March 12, 2012
It's a long story for another time. Suffice it to say that Father Barron, the WOF Ministry and our gracious Lord worked together and gave me the loving shove to become a new Catholic. Cardinal George of Chicago challenged Father Barron to convert Chicago. Father Barron and WOF are converting more than Chicago! I'm sure that Cardinal George is more than pleased!
written by DS, March 12, 2012
Thanks for sharing this Mr. Miner. Whenever I have donated time or money to a cause that serves those who are less fortunate, I have had similar experiences. I have found that the "poor" person that I am helping has actually given me much more in return to alleviate my own spiritual poverty: he/she has shown me the face of Christ.
written by Nick Palmer, March 12, 2012
Great story well told. Three aspects caught my eye.

First, the danger of pride and self-importance when doing good works. Brad, thanks for the honesty. Through honesty we learn true humility.

Second, the even greater gift was probably the time you spent in conversation with Tommy. In the end, it's all about loving relationships.

Third, the need to thank God for presenting us with opportunities to do good works. These chances, sometimes fleeting, are great gifts to us, maybe even greater to us than the recipient of our works.

There is an incredible return we receive when we imitate our Lord -- tenfold, a hundredfold. Think of the ripple effect of this simple deed on, for example, the young mother watching you.

One of the tough things to disentangle ourselves from are our ingoing expectations. For example, if Tommy had furiously rejected your offer, that would not have diminished the fundamental goodness of your gesture on iota.

Our responsibility is to do the next right thing. The outcomes we need to leave up to God. That can be difficult.
written by Dave, March 12, 2012
This article is the most encouraging thing I have read in quite a while. Thanks so much, Mr. Miner.
written by Kerv, March 13, 2012
For those, like me, who were inspired by this article and pondered their own opportunity for alms giving in a very personal, one-on-one way, here is a thought.

We are repeatedly instructed in scripture that we must defend and protect the widows and orphans. With regard to an orphan: consider the unborn child about to be killed by his/her mother. With regard to the widow: consider the pregnant woman who has been abandoned by her so-called "partner". You can make the kind of personal connections that Mr. Miner so beautifully described at your local pro-life crisis pregnancy center. The gift of your time is wonderful. The gift of your money is less emotionally rewarding, but just as vital.

...but whether or not you choose protecting widows and orphans as your cause - don't lose the inspiration provided in this article. There are so many ways to help the truly needy. "But Lord, When did we find you naked and clothe you?"
written by debby, March 13, 2012
for those of you still reading this post- sorry i am behind - please pray for two women i know of through two different sources who are scheduled to abort their babies this week. one's name is Jackie. her and her husband have discovered that the baby is missing her brain. this is their first child.
the other is a woman who lives in PA who has a 2 year old and has found out she is having twins. she says she can't "handle" twins, so she is asking the doctor to choose which to "selectively abort". i found out about this last Friday and have been asking for Dorothy Day to please intercede. "Oh Father, forgive us. we have NO IDEA what we are doing.....we have sinned against Heaven. Depart - but don't leave us! - we are sinful." thank God His response is, "do not be afraid. Believe...."
your prayers could give these children a chance to learn to walk someday.....
thank you, brad, for this vulnerable post. you are such a brother to us all, and what a good example to your sons.
p.s. i have Fr. Barron's CD of this Lenten presentation. after listening to it 3 times, i still can't bear to offer it to a neighbor. maybe next year! i just finished his whole DVD Catholicism set this past Sunday. i just love him. so down to earth yet articulate and inviting. thank you for encouraging others to listen and learn from him.
written by Christina, June 20, 2012
I want to thank you for writing this. I was actually in Bronxville last night to catch a movie. I never really go there. Once I got out of my car and started walking towards the theatre, I noticed "Tommy." He was trying to cross the street to get to the side I was on. I waited to make sure he got across okay and was able to get the walker up the side of the curb. All during the movie I kept thinking about him & wondered who he was and if he needed anything. Thankfully when I came out of the movie he was outside still wandering the streets. I asked if there was anything I could do for him, give him a ride somewhere, something to eat or drink. He just told me I was very kind and that he was okay and to have a good evening. I came home still thinking about him, and I actually searched online & came across this. What a truly wonderful story about the walker. It is very inspirational & encourages me to do even more. :]

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