When Father Michael Gurnick, St. Malachi Parish administrator, received a call last year from the nonprofit Community West Foundation asking if the parish would be willing to provide a home for “Homeless Jesus,” one of the six Matthew 25 sculptures created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, he turned to the parish council for its input. (See photo gallery above,)
“The decision was unanimous. Not a single ‘no’ vote,” he said. “And that doesn’t often happen in parish life,” he quipped.
The bronze sculpture, which depicts a life-size Jesus laying on a bench, arrived in Cleveland just before Christmas and was installed on Dec. 22, 2021, an early Christmas gift for the parish. The six sculptures are located around the West Side of Cleveland, which is the only city outside of Rome, Italy, to have all the sculptures. Schmalz said the sculptures allow people a chance to interact, such as sitting on the bench at the feet of Homeless Jesus.
Bishop Edward Malesic visited St. Malachi Parish on April 3 to celebrate Mass and bless the Homeless Jesus installation. The sculpture depicts the basic need for shelter and raises awareness of the homeless population in the community who need care and compassion.
Wet snow was falling a few hours before the Mass and blessing, but the precipitation stopped and the congregation gathered outside the church as the bishop blessed the sculpture. After saying the prayer of blessing, he sprinkled the sculpture with holy water and stopped briefly to touch Jesus.
“I can’t help but think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” the bishop said, reflecting on her many years of service to the poor in India. The Homeless Jesus sculpture is a perfect fit for St. Malachi, the bishop said, pointing out the parish mission statement: “We are a Eucharistic people, united in prayer, welcoming to all, serving the poor.”
After the brief blessing, the congregation and clergy processed into the church, where Bishop Malesic celebrated Mass. Concelebrants were Father Gurnick, Father Phil Bernier, OFM cap, parochial vicar, and Father Mark Hollis, who retired from the diocesan seminaries and assists with parish liturgies.
The bishop thanked the parish for the invitation to visit and to bless the sculpture. “Thanks for brining the message and mission of Jesus to this area of our diocese, especially to those who need to find the hope of the Gospel that is living in you.”
Reflecting on the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, the bishop explained that it was important to know when night ended and morning began because the first offerings of the day were made in the morning in the temple. Jesus arrived as day was beginning to break – a new day for the woman who had sinned.
Although it was early morning for Jesus, the bishop said it was the spiritual night for the Pharisees and scribes because they saw the woman caught in adultery and saw no relationship to her.
“They either did not realize their own sins, or they hoped no one else knew of the sins that they wanted to keep secret. But Jesus knew,” the bishop said, adding that he knew the woman and the Pharisees had something in common: they were related in their separation from God. “Like us, all of them were sinners, too,” he added.
Scripture said Jesus was writing something in the sand, but there was no clarification about what he was writing. Tradition says he was writing the sins of the woman’s accusers. One by one, they left when they began to realize that they were no better than she was.
“The scribes and Pharisees knew the sins of the woman, but Jesus knew the sins of these men. In fact, they might have had worse sins that Jesus was brining to light by posting them in the sand,” Bishop Malesic said.
At the end of the story, Jesus is treating the woman with patience, compassion and forgiveness. The bishop said Jesus was the beginning of a new day for the woman. “Jesus was her morning after a long and dark night. Jesus was her brother, her savior, her Lord. Looking into his eyes, this woman saw the face of the Father’s love for her,” he said. Jesus told her to live the new life he gave her and told her to sin no more, absolving her of her past and giving her a future,” the bishop said.
There three messages in the day’s Gospel, he said:
Don’t cast stones at others before looking at your own sinfulness.
When looking at a public sinner, be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees.
If we admit our sins, Jesus will give us new life and we he does, we need to forget about our past life.
“Jesus wants to release us from the burden of guilt, just like he lifted the burden from the woman caught in adultery,” the bishop said. Asking when morning begins, he said it happens when we stand with the adulterous woman knowing that we share the quality of sinfulness with her and knowing that we share in Christ’s forgiveness.
“It is also a new day when we can look into the face of someone in need and see the face of Jesus. Then the night is over and it is the morning of a new and glorious day,” he added.
Father Gurnick thanked the bishop for his visit and expressed appreciation to th4e Community West Foundation for initiating the conversation about providing a home for the sculpture.
“Homeless Jesus is at the very heart of what this parish is,” he said.
Martin Uhle, Community West Foundation president and CEO, and others from the organization also attended the blessing and Mass. He said the foundation awarded $2.6 million in grants last year within about 2½ miles of St. Malachi Parish. He said he hopes to bring the artist, Schmalz, to Cleveland in the fall and he hopes he can visit the parish.
St. Malachi has a long history of helping the poor, including its Back Door Ministry program, Malachi Center and Malachi House.
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