Helping others: The ride of your life

Larry Smith

Near the beginning of a 464-mile bike tour, my right knee gave out. I pulled over to a Ride the Rockies aid station in a tiny town in Colorado and lay down in the grass, in pain, my knee swollen. I felt alone and helpless. When I received help, my sense of relief and security was overwhelming. When you can’t help yourself, it’s a cold and lonely feeling. It really takes your breath away.

Now, imagine the helplessness of someone experiencing homelessness: foraging for food in trash bins, hunkered down under a bridge or not sleeping for fear of harm. It’s not something you would ever want to experience. But thousands of our brothers and sisters across the country do experience homelessness. One-fifth of them are children.

There is good news. The estimated number of homeless people has trended down in the past decade. The sad news, in Colorado, is that we’re counter to the trend. Between 2015 and 2016, when overall homelessness (including people in families) dropped 2.6 percent nationally, Colorado experienced the single-largest percentage increase of homeless individuals (12.6 percent) of any state, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The causes are many and varied. What’s important is what we do about it. At the Samaritan House homeless shelter in downtown Denver, of those individuals and families who complete the first 30 days of the Levels Program that includes life skills, more than 60 percent leave the shelter with housing in place. More than 90 percent have income in place.

This year, we will open the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter in northeast Denver to accommodate 150 women a night. We’re also moving our administrative offices to that location to be in closer community with those we serve. With your help, Catholic Charities is providing hope in the face of helplessness.

That’s also why, for the seventh consecutive year, Team Samaritan House is part of Ride the Rockies. I was on the ride in 2015 when my knee gave out. This year, I’ll be part of the support team as 40 members of Team Samaritan House pedal a 447-mile loop from Alamosa to Salida from June 10 to June 17. Why do they ride? For the love of the homeless and to raise $150,000 to support the shelters of Catholic Charities. Those riders are spending many hours in the saddle. I encourage you to support one or more of them at samhousedenver.org/rtr.

And after you do that, make plans to come down to Samaritan House and help serve dinner to the poor. You’ll be much richer for it. On a training run, one of our riders met a group of three men from Australia, riding their bikes. Just because they wanted to be a part of it, the men ended up helping Team Samaritan House serve a special pig roast dinner to residents of the shelter.

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” proclaims St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7.

Join us. Let’s race together to serve others.

Larry Smith is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit online at ccdenver.org or call 303-742-0828 to learn more, volunteer or make a donation.

COMING UP: Carmelite lived the cloistered life ‘to the full’

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In 1950, at the ripe age of 18, Sister Mona Claire of Our Lady entered religious life as a Carmelite of the Holy Spirit. For the next 67 years, she went on to live a cloistered life away from the world in deep prayer.

It would seem it was no coincidence, then, that she passed away on May 20 — the feast of Pentecost.

“For her to die on the feast of Pentecost — it’s our biggest solemnity next to Christmas because we’re the Carmel of the Holy Spirit,” said Mother Mary of Jesus, prioress of the discalced Carmelite nuns of Littleton. “Our blessed Lord really favored her, I think.”

Over 20 of Sister Mona’s 67 years as a Carmelite were spent as a secretary answering phone calls and responding to requests for prayers and Mass offerings. Sister Mona was also a talented seamstress and spent much of her time making clothes for the Sisters and altar linens.

Sister Mona’s most unique job was perhaps taking care of sheep, which the monastery had up until the 1980s, and her most beautiful work was likely her profound prayer life.

“She always prayed,” said Mother Mary. “Even in her last few days, if she said anything, it was a prayer.”

Mother Mary recalled that the doctor who attended to Sister Mona at the hospital after she experienced a fall shortly before she passed asked her to open her eyes, and she was unable to follow his commands.

“But I would say a prayer, and she’d finish it for me,” said Mother Mary. “I would say, ‘Praise be Jesus Christ,’ and she would say, ‘Now and forever.’ I think her last words were ‘Now and forever.’”

Mother Mary admired Sister Mona for her patience and efforts to please God, as well as her positive attitude in all circumstances.

“I noticed that even in the pain she was in when she was dying, she never moaned or anything,” said Mother Mary. “She never complained one little bit.”

Mother Mary believes it was a blessing that Sister Mona was able to remain so close to God even during her final days — a grace that likely stemmed from the consistent efforts she made to be close to him throughout her life.

“If you’re constantly corresponding with grace and praying, it’s going to come to you in those last moments,” said Mother Mary. “It will strengthen you for the journey. I think that’s what happened.”

Mother Mary witnessed graces showering down during on Sister Mona even during her funeral, particularly when Bishop Jorge Rodriguez blessed her coffin before it was lowered into the ground.

“There were turtle doves. You could hear turtle doves cooing,” not back and forth, but in unison, Mother Mary said. It reminded those in attendance of Song of Solomon 2, which mentions the voice of a turtledove in a chapter about the love of a bride groom.

The beauty of the moment didn’t go unnoticed, much like Sister Mona’s life of service.

“She was the loving and praying heart of the Church and the Carmel [community] here for almost 68 years,” said Mother Mary. “Everything she did was for souls and for our dear Lord’s greater glory and honor,” she said.

Mother Mary believes Sister Mona had a profound impact on the world, even though she had little contact with it.

“Having been in the convent as long as she was, she really impacted the diocese and the world with her ever-flowing prayers,” said Mother Mary. “It’s just the nature of cloistered life — and she lived it to the full.”