About 16 years ago, I was leaving a supermarket parking lot in Boston and ran into a friend Chris. We started talking about what he was up to. He didn’t have a college education and wasn’t going to school. He had a past in which he did his share of drugs and the fast life. He was in a recovery program and was clean. But still, he didn’t have any career skills. Well, we chatted for a little bit, and then finally got to the big “pink elephant” in our conversation. See, my friend was standing outside the supermarket holding a Tom Menino-for-mayor sign.
I’m thinking, oh, he’s gonna be a political hack. I’m thinking, to be a hack, you basically don’t do any work yourself except hold a sign and tag along on someone else’s coattails. When the guy gets elected, you have a nice spot on his team. See, at the time, I didn’t realize that that’s all you can do when you’re at rock bottom. I didn’t realize how humbling it must be to basically broadcast to everyone in public that all you can do is hold your savior’s sign.
Sixteen years later, Tom Menino is somehow still the mayor of Boston, and though I haven’t seen him in a while, I’m pretty sure Chris still has his plum spot on the mayor’s team.
About five years ago I used to meet a homeless man Kevin now and then in the Back Bay of Boston. He was in rough shape, a former alcoholic on the street with a cousin. He had been in treatment centers and prison, and, well, he always just had a pathetic look about him. You could tell, this was a man who was at rock bottom.
But, he had more faith than many priests that I know. He wore a hat with the name “JESUS” in big letters across it. And He would tell me all that Jesus had done for him, how great He is. Yeah, he struggled with all the things that go with living on the streets, but in the middle of rock bottom, what was he doing?
He was doing the only thing a person at rock bottom can do.
He was holding his Savior’s sign.
Well, a few months ago, just after Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration began at St. Clement’s Shrine in Boston, I was in the church, sitting quietly, when I could tell someone was approaching me. I looked up and it was Kevin, with a big smile on his face. “Thanks for all the sandwiches. I have a place now, and I’m working in a restaurant. Come by anytime and I’ll get you dinner – it’s on me. Thanks for all the sandwiches.” I didn’t know what to say, but I was so happy for the guy. And in the dim lighting, I could see the name on his hat: “JESUS”
When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified with him. Now picture being judged guilty, being brought outside the main and only gate of the city, stripped of your clothing, and nailed up on a cross at high noon in broad daylight to slowly suffocate throughout the day, and maybe even into the next day.
So what does the good thief do? He makes a little proclamation. “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lk 23:41) And at the same time, he asks the Lord to keep him in mind when he gets into office.
What is he doing?
He’s doing the only thing a person can do at rock bottom.
He’s holding his Savior’s sign.
For that, the Lord gave him a plum spot in His Kingdom: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43) He’s still in that spot today. He’ll have it forever.
If you are at rock bottom in life, if you think things can’t get worse for you, if you think there’s nothing you can do, then I’ll give you some advice.
Hold His sign for Him. Don’t be afraid, put the pride away like Chris, like Kevin, like the good thief. Hold His sign for Him.
Let Him be your Savior.
Then, you will have a plum spot in His Kingdom. Forever.