The young man was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the New York street, curled over, his head nearly touching the sidewalk. His backpack was several feet away near a building, as if he set it down with a thought to rest there, but the chemical rushing in his veins took hold and he simply sat down and slept. He was listing to one side; I could see he couldn’t have been more than 25, probably younger, about the age of my youngest son. I immediately thought of his mother. Did she even know where he was? Did every phone call put her on an emotional seesaw of hope and dread? Was she numb with grief but had to keep moving forward for the sake of other children?
So many mother’s hearts are breaking as the opioid crisis takes its toll. But so many other mothers are burdened with the pain of their own personal “prodigals”. A woman I know recently shared that her 30-something son doesn’t speak to her—and she has no idea why. Murmurs of sympathy went through our group, and some nods of recognition of shared pain. One woman patted her hand and said, “We’ve all been there. Maybe not the same way, but we’ve all hurt for a kid.” (Isn’t that the truth?!) She shared that her daughter had seethed with anger in her 20’s, making dangerous choices, before learning her problems came from inside herself, not the world. My friend said at the time all she could do was pray and love her daughter from afar. The story offered hope yes, but also the comfort that we do not carry our burdens alone.
Today is the memorial of St. Frances Cabrini, who tended to the needs of New York’s immigrant Italian community near the turn of the 20th century, a time of chaos and poverty in the city. The substances and temptations that plague us today might not be the same as in her day, but I am sure she would recognize the pain and isolation and despair they cause. So I ask Mother Cabrini to pray for this young man, lost on the same streets she tended more than a century ago. And I ask her to intercede for all our prodigals, no matter how they might be lost.