Reflection brings light to Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service

a pair of black and white winter boots on a small table draped with a purple curtain next to a lit candle
A candle representing a former St. John’s Ministries guest who passed away.

On December 21, which is the longest and darkest night of the year, St. John’s hosted the 12th Annual Greater Green Bay Homeless Persons’ Interfaith Memorial Service. This service honored the 17 known names of former guests who passed away since December 2019 with a lit candle, with an 18th candle representing unknown homeless adults who also passed.

During the service, there were prayers and poems read, as well as a reflection written and spoken by Shawn Madigan, CSJ. This reflection, which is below, drew attention to the need for connection and relationships with all, including our homeless brothers and sisters.


“Sometimes you like to go where everybody knows your name…And they’re glad you came. You like to go where the people know troubles are much the same. You like to go…”

How many times in a year do we say our name? How many times have we printed, typed or computer scripted our names? How often in this season have we signed our name to a Christmas card or other special greeting to someone who is part of our memory cells?

When someone else says our name to another in some conversation, do people simile, grimace, roll their eyes, frown or laugh? We’ll continue to say our name as long as we are able.

What can’t be fully shared with the name is the ever-evolving unique meaning of our name. This evolving meaning is a blend of unique life experiences, of the effects of people who loved us or refused to love us, of events or situations we interpret in unique ways. No one else will ever be our name in the same way.

We will hear names of some of our sisters and brothers whose lives were challenged by homelessness, by other silent nights of the heart, by sensitivities and feelings that only God/Sacred Mystery knows and understands with loving compassion.

Helena, Patty, James, Ken, Christian, Mark and others were like any of us, a unique never to be repeated person doing the best they could on life’s journey.

We’ll hear these names on this darkest night of the year, hoping they are at last home—where everybody knows their name and are heavenly glad they finally came.

Like us, these sisters and brothers have a name that carries the meaning of their unique lifetime, a journey known fully by no one else, except a loving God. We hope each of them has known love and light.

We know these sisters and brothers experienced a challenging journey including homelessness of place. Some of us do not know that challenge but I suspect we do know about the experience of homelessness in the heart’s secret space. Each name we’ve already shared and each name we’ll hear remembered in this celebration, are part of the same mystery of human journeying. Lucky for all of us humans there is a Christmas mystery, a God who comes like us and never abandons us on the journeying.

I conclude with “This is our name, our mystery.”

We don’t remember the drama of our first baby cry or scream. But it did announce “Here I am, ready to learn, to live, to dream.”

Events, people, ourselves helped shape our name’s meaning. We’ve all had to interpret silent nights of the heart, other parts of our lifestreaming.

We know none of us are alike; only God knows how we’ve grown. But can’t we still be sisters and brothers, making each other feel at home?

Homelessness is often used designating no home or physical space. But homelessness of the heart is also a challenging place.

Christmas mystery assures us, “This God who calls us by name is love that will never leave us; isn’t that why love came?”

“Well, God. This night you know I am NOT all I could be.” Response: “I know who you are. Because I am God, you see.”

“I was there at your firstborn cry and I never left you alone. My love still surrounds you; and when it’s time for you to come home, I’ll call you and welcome the unique meaning of your name. I know you’ll enjoy this space, where eternal Christmas reigns.”

“Sometimes you like to go where everybody knows your name. When my light shatters darkness, humans are pretty much the same. There are no homeless hearts here; all are glad you came.”

Is that like a heavenly CHEERS— eternal rejoicing in our name?

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