The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head
Homily by Dr Paul O'Reilly SJ on the occasion of the blessing of the Homeless Jesus statue at Farm Street Church.
'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'
I first want to say how delighted I am to be here and how privileged I feel to be asked to preach on the occasion of the installation of the Homeless Jesus in Farm Street Church. It is an image that is very dear to my heart and I am glad that the homeless Jesus has at last found what so many of my patients also have great difficulty in achieving – permanent accommodation in Westminster. My main job is to be part of a general practice for homeless people which runs within the Cardinal Hume Centre. But if I may just quibble for a moment, I’m not absolutely sure we’ve put Him in exactly the right place. And that is because of something which happened to me in a particular spot in this Church and I’d like to show you exactly where.
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 was the one who 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 – well - anyone else who has to listen to me preaching.
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 for a moment or two he just looked at me, wondering whether to tell me or not. And then he said, “This is the only place I don’t get laughed at.”
The ask of the homeless Jesus is not a large one.
- Two square yards of bench to call his home for maybe an hour or so.
- A little soup. Some sandwiches if you have them.
- If you want him happy, then a large mug of really hot strong tea – three sugars, by the way.
- And if you really want to make his day, ten minutes of your time just to see if his day has been any better than yours.
- Oh! And not to get laughed at. Quite important that bit.
We live in a cynical and satirical world where laughter is a weapon of cultural war. Humour is when I laugh at myself and people like myself, satire is when I laugh at other people; and sometimes I think our comedy is a little too full of satire.
The Hebrew traditions of our Old Testament tell us that God laughs a lot, particularly when human beings tell Him their plans, 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 nap and know that they will never be laughed at.