9/11, A Homeless Man, A Bagel, & the Grace of God Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 31 May 2007 13:56
Over at Busted Halo, newly ordained deacon and staffer at CBS News, Greg Kendra tells his wonderful conversion story:


It started around the time my parents died, in the early 1990s, and I began to feel asense of my own limitedness—my own mortality. And the cavity grew in the wake of 9/11. After the towers fell, I spent two days in New York City, writing special reports for CBS News, unable to make it home because all the roads and subways were closed; in the days that followed, between the candlelight vigils and photocopied pictures taped to bus stops and the endless funerals accompanied by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” I had a growing sense that there had to be something more. My cradle Catholicism had faded into indifference; mass was something I attended when I felt like it. My faith, if you can call it that, was patchy at best.

But after 9/11, I realized with a blinding clarity that the tidy life I’d established for myself could vanish at any moment. Then, one day, on the way back from picking up bagels, I passed a homeless guy on the subway, begging for money. I offered him a fresh bagel. He thanked me with so much enthusiasm, you’d have thought I’d given him a fresh cut of sirloin. When my train came, I looked over my shoulder to see where he’d gone. And there he was, at the end of the platform: he’d broken his bagel in half and was sharing it with another homeless man.

This withered old man who had next to nothing gave half of what he had to someone who had even less. Deep in the recesses of my Catholic memory, something stirred. “And they knew him in the breaking of the bread.” Something began to speak to me.

I realized: I’d been given much. What could I give back?

Elevation

While on retreat at a Trappist monastery in 2002, I found my answer. There, I stumbled on something unusual: a deacon. He was from England, but at that time was living in France. I’d never met a deacon before. I’d heard about them, and once or twice I’d seen them, but my parish back in Queens never had one, and I was intrigued. (Deacons, I discovered, are married, and they have jobs outside the church. They are part of the Catholic clergy, and receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and can proclaim the gospel at mass and preach.) We spent a long afternoon talking about the diaconate, and I was amazed to learn that he also worked in broadcasting, for the BBC. He’d done some freelance work for CBS, too, and we knew a lot of the same people. Was God trying to tell me something?

The next day, I saw the deacon in action, serving mass in the abbey church and preaching a wonderful homily in three—yes, three—different languages. And it was then that it struck me. Here was a man much like myself, doing what I did for a living, and elevating his life to God in a way that was, to my disbelieving eyes, quite beautiful. Could I do this? As I sat in the abbey and heard the chants and watched him elevating the chalice, it dawned on me: Yes. Yes. You can do this. You should do this.