“I would approach them with love.”

This morning, I went to Mass at St. Alphonsus. It is the second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. Today’s Gospel (John 1:35- 42) struck me deeply, and instead of making some phone calls on my walk after Mass, I decided to reflect on the Word as I walked through Ballard. I was led to have an encounter that I wanted to record and share.

First, the Gospel (John 1:35-42):

“35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples,

36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”*

37 The two disciples* heard what he said and followed Jesus.

38Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.*

40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.

41He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah”* (which is translated Anointed).z

42Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John;* you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).a

All through Fr. Richard’s homily and the rest of the Mass, I kept hearing Jesus’s question: “What are you looking for?” At first, I responded that I was looking for Him, but then I said “I’m looking for love.” It’s so hard to summarize in a coherent way on paper one’s thoughts during Mass, but this is what I reflected upon as I received the Eucharist and then afterwards, as I went on my walk afterwards. I had to go get some things at Fred Meyer, and the only way to do that was to walk through the light industrial area of Ballard that has become a place where many homeless people are now living. Usually, I would use this walk as an opportunity to make some phone calls, but I wanted to continue to hold on and contemplate the Gospel.

While there have always been homeless people living in Ballard, and in this area in general, there has been a huge increase, particularly in the past year. Many of these people are no longer living along the streets but have now moved around and into the parks. This morning, I walked through Gilman Park, where there are several encampments, including one near the playground. The last time I was at the park, I had an animated conversation with a young man who lived near the park about the situation.

This morning, I was walking past a young man trying to fix his red and gray tent set up on a grassy knoll near the tennis courts. The young man kept looking at me, so I made eye contact, raised my coffee cup to say hello and kept walking through the park.

“Excuse me,” the young man said. I stopped and looked back at him. He went from where he was working on his tent and came over to speak with me. As he got closer, I was able to see that he was a white man, probably in his twenties, wearing black and gray clothes with matted dreadlocks and tattoos on his face and hands. His hands were so dirty they were gray themselves.

“Someone slashed my tent,” he began.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“What would you do,” he continued, “if there was someone who was obsessed with you- her name is ___- and every time that you tried to push them away, they started doing things like slashing your tent?”

“Does this person live in the park?” I asked.

“No, but they keep on doing this, and I’m asking people trying to figure out what to do.”

I paused and stopped thinking and tried to be a conduit. “I would approach them with love. I don’t know who this person is, but you might want to approach them with love.”

He paused and looked at me. If I had to guess, I thought that as we were talking, he was sober and lucid. “You know, I’ve asked a bunch of people about this, and you’re the first person to say to approach them with love. I think I’ll try that. Thank you.” With that, he turned and walked back to the ruins of his tent.