This article is written by my friend and brother in Christ
Mr. Bernard “Bernie” Long
Come to me all who labor and are burdened – a choice – Jesus or addiction
There but for the grace of God go I
Edmond, a seemingly mild mannered man and former football player for Syracuse University was shot seven times in his attempt to be a drug leader. Jonathon, speaks with slurred speech, he always gives me a hug and thanks me for coming and says “Bernie I am taking one day at a time – doing what I have to do”. Jonathan was shot in the head twice in drug-related violence. Tim, a big burly tattooed man who was raised Catholic, speaks of his heroin addiction and how when caught in its web would do anything to get his next fix. He looks me in the eye and says “Anything”!!! Isaac, a 23 -24 year old man, very intelligent, college educated young man talks how alcohol and drugs lead him to be homeless and lying on the street. After a talk on the evils of abortion Isaac admits, with regret, that he fathered babies and did nothing to discourage his girl friends decision to have an abortion. Anthony, a clean cut young man of about 23 has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for a DUI. He tells me that while he had hoped he would not go to prison he admits that while driving under the influence he seriously injured an innocent person. He says “I deserve the sentence I received”.
All these men are residents of CITYTEAM INTERNATIONAL in Chester Pa. CITYTEAM is a Christian organization that provides a men’s shelter and drug and alcohol recovery program. At the invitation of Nancy, a fellow St Pius X parishioner and employee of City, my friend and co-volunteer Chas and I have been doing Christian devotional talks every Thursday morning for the last seven months. What a blessing being with these men it has been for both of us.
Every Thursday morning at 8 AM about 15 to 20 men gather for a Christian devotional which Chas and I lead; just about every time I end the talk with a prayer. I begin, “Lord these are good men”; Chas and I sincerely believe that to be true. In talking to them you feel kindness, gentleness, humility, intelligence. They also have a dark past and they are very vulnerable to fall back into the web of addiction.
“ I can’t blame anybody else – I have screwed up my life with addiction” is a common refrain. They are also intelligent and they know their bible. In hearing their stories Chas and I truly have the feeling wow – THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.
These men describe the affects of heroin; an immediate bliss – all your fears, your worries, your guilt, your concern about others, concerns about your future – all go away. You don’t need food or family or love. This bliss lasts for a short time, only for a short time. They describe what happens after it wears off as being horrible. It is the lowest of the lows. You are enslaved in feelings of desperation, depression and physical sickness that seems can only be cured by taking another shot of heroin. It leads to a total abandonment of pride or morals. All they can think of is getting heroin to make their pain and sickness go away.
Tim at City describes a place in Philadelphia where drugs, especially heroin is plentiful. He and the others describe an environment that seems to be hell on earth. Being approached to buy or sell drugs; men and women are laying on the street in a stupor. Women selling themselves to be get money for drugs. People relieving themselves right on the side walks. Sex acts in the open. Violence and paranoid behavior are commonplace.
All of the men at City admit they are very vulnerable to fall back into drugs despite all the pain and suffering it has caused them. They admit it is their weakness. Most of the men state that their parents were addicts. They are grateful to City for the chance to get their life back.
Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, my burden light. Mathew 11: 28-30.
In a recent talk we spoke about this passage and that they have a choice. When you are laboring with life’s problems, when you are heavy burdened these men have a choice – they can come to Jesus or they can go back to drugs.
It is the evil one who tempts them –Come to me – don’t listen to that Jesus stuff. You know you have tried that when things are going bad it does not work. That yoke that Jesus speaks of is about following all kinds of rules. Love one another, forgive one another, be unselfish. Come on, life does not work like that. You need to take care of yourself. Following Jesus is no fun, no drugs, no sex, no freedom to do what you want to do. Take this needle – one little hit you will get instant relief, all your troubles will go away. . Just take one hit, it won’t kill you.
They agree that through the lure of drugs instant relief is their temptation. Even though intellectually they know it leads to pain and sorrow. Yes, any rational look at the choice is to say no to the devil and yes to Jesus Christ. They know where the choice of drug addiction leads to – slavery, hopelessness, desperation, total selfishness and possible eternal death.
We speak to these men – you must commit yourself every day to choose your path. Jesus is not in the instant bliss business. He is not in the short term high business. The yoke Jesus speaks about is the way to eternal life. The Lord of the entire universe who loves you is saying this is the way to live your life. Take on the yoke of Jesus Christ and it will lead you to the freedom to live a life of love knowing that no matter what happens to you in your life your burdens are light. A Lord that is meek and humble of heart who knows your pain knows your weaknesses and is with you on your journey to give you lasting rest.
After one of our talks Isaac and Tim asked us for “Catholic Bibles”. Isaac tells us how some speakers at City have stated that Catholics are not Christian. Isaac is very well versed in the bible has been becoming more and more convinced that the Catholic faith represents the fullness of faith as outlined in Scripture. He asked for reading material on the Eucharist. After one of our recent talks, Isaac and Tim asked us if we would take them to Mass. The rules are that they have to have permission to leave City and they must go in threes. Chas contacted the priest at St Katherine Drexel in Chester. The two men convince another City Team resident Derrick to come with us. Chas and I pick up the men and take them to 8 AM Mass on a Saturday morning.
Fr. Tom meets us in the back of Church after Mass. He has a very kind demeanor and welcomes the men. They are all very attentive. Father speaks that the Lord made them good and while life happens and we often fail, good is what the Lord created us to be. He goes on talk about God’s mercy being life giving.
Tim who was raised Catholic but had not been to confession in about thirty years asked Father if he would hear his confession. After he is done Tim seems to be very happy and at peace. Isaac, who was never a Catholic, asks to meet with the priest in the confessional. Derrick, who shows great respect for the process, does not see the reason to confess his sins to a priest. Isaac tells me after the meeting with the priest that he would like to begin the process to become a Catholic.
Each week it is not unusual to find that people suddenly leave the program. The very next week Isaac is gone. He has left the program. It is feared that he has went back to drugs. We contact him via text messages he says he is doing fine and has gotten a job. We encourage him that his future is bright as long as he chooses the Lord and not drugs. We promise to pray for him. He thanks us for the prayers and states your words of encouragement mean a lot and promises to stay in touch.
It is clear to Chas and I that the lure of drugs will always be with these men. One man speaks of it as “his thorn”. May the good Lord watch over these men and help us all to remember –
THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I