Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat in principio
Et nunc, et semper
Et in sæcula saeculorum
We slid into the first two rows, taking our place one at a time, looking up to see these familiar words etched in faded gold letters above the altar. A hush enveloped the space, the lights dim. A single ray of sunshine streamed in through the stained-glass windows, warming the stillness with a dusty glow.
We knelt down to pray, leaning into the quiet. The silence, precious and fragile, lasted just a few breaths before it suddenly splintered in two. In a moment, sirens blared from outside. Muffled shouts filled the air. Loud music, car horns, and the rush of traffic followed close at hand. Then, underneath it all, one more sound joined the rest: a faint snore rumbling up from the pews behind us.
That single snore — the holiest sound of all — met our ears here, in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, where St. Boniface parish carries out a beautiful ministry. Just outside their walls, thousands of unhoused people in the Bay Area endure long and wakeful nights, often forgoing sleep to protect themselves on the streets. Many have tried crowding into local church vestibules, seeking refuge for themselves and their loved ones. One neighboring cathedral responded to the influx by turning on their sprinklers. St. Boniface, by contrast, opened its doors: the parish now offers its pews as a place for unhoused guests to sleep during the day, with shower and laundry services also available upon request. The friars celebrate Mass here and welcome all visitors, including our group from St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel & Center at Yale. Mass attendees are encouraged to spend time in prayer and solidarity with those who have come to find shelter.
Our Alternative Spring Break trip to California focused on serving immigrants, refugees, migrant worker — people on the move. Here, though, we found something a little different. Here, at last, we found people at rest. We witnessed our brothers and sisters laying down their loads, drinking in deep breaths, beneath the outstretched arms of Christ crucified. And once again, as had happened so many times already during this week of service, we found the mystery of the Trinity revealed. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the parish, the people they serve, and the spirit of love that flows between them. We found Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; Christ in the faces of the poor and vulnerable; Christ in the abundant, self-giving care that cherishes the dignity of every human person and sets the world on fire with cleansing flames that promise to renew the face of the Earth.
On our way out the front gate, we passed a Franciscan friar stationed there who met our gaze with soft, hazel eyes. He had graying hair and a lined face, solemn but gentle. A name tag on his sturdy frame identified him as Brother John from Brooklyn, New York. “Good to see you, man. I like your hat,” he murmured to one shuffling passerby. Nothing came in response. Unperturbed, Br. John shifted his feet and kept to his post, squaring his shoulders as he waved in the next group of bleary-eyed guests. He nodded to us as we left, bearing the light of Christ on his serene countenance, sending forth divine fragrance into the world one kindly gesture at a time.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” St. Francis of Assisi once said. This exhortation reverberated in my mind as we wandered around the city for the rest of that day. With their silent, humble offering of a place to sleep, the people of St. Boniface parish certainly live up to the task. Their work recalls the widow whom Jesus praises after she gives all that she has, just “two small coins worth a few cents,” to the temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44). In a world riddled with sickness and hurt, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The widow reminds us that God asks for nothing more or less than our whole selves. He asks us to give what we can, where we can, for as long as we can — even if, sometimes, all that means is just opening the door.
Of course, many of us who have been blessed with the gift of a university education will be called upon to do much more than that. God has granted us the tools to engineer creative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. But whether we find ourselves in the future developing life-saving medical treatments, enacting new legislation, working to change the academic discourse, teaching someone how to fish or indeed, simply sharing with others whatever fish we have to give, the same spirit of humble service must guide our every move. Just as Christ gave His whole self, His humanity and divinity, for the salvation of the world. So too are we called to make an eternal offering of our own time and talents, whatever that might mean for each of us in our particular circumstances. After all, in this tumultuous age of the present, He has no hands but ours.
Thus, as our Lenten season draws to a close, let us seek to emulate the example of St. Boniface parish. Let us each offer ourselves as a living temple to the Lord. Let us strive ever more deeply to become a resting place for our God and for every person who comes to us in their hour of need. Christ walks among us in the footsteps of the downtrodden. He speaks to us in the voices of the voiceless, the displaced, the suffering, and the oppressed. Let us welcome Him into our hearts and homes, every hour of every day. Let Him lay His head on the oaken pews of our hearts and find in us a peaceful refuge, now and forever: in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Katie Painter is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Classics and Religious Studies.