Reprinted from "A Message for Young Catholics" from the Hope Journal, Summer 2001, with permission of the author.

It was a bitterly cold December midnight in Washington, D.C. I was driving past North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue on my way home. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a figure slumped over on a bench at the bus stop. He was obviously homeless, with a sweater pulled over his head, clothes raggedy--totally out of it.

I said to myself, “What a shame”! and I kept on driving. Soon I was in my warm apartment and in my warm bed ready for sleep. However, something was wrong. No matter how I tried, I could not fall asleep. I tossed and tossed-- one o'clock, two o'clock, two fifteen, two thirty. I got out of bed, put my clothes on, and drove back to North Capitol and Florida.

There he was, still there, in that freezing weather. The closer I got to him, the more overpowering was the stench of his filthy clothes and unclean body.

“Do you want a bed?”

“Yeah, you the one?”

I got him in the car and drove back to the apartment. I pulled the rollaway bed out of the closet and gave him some extra blankets because he was still shivering. He was 21 years old and his name was Jamal.

I went in my bedroom and immediately fell asleep. The next morning I called up two of my young friends who were recovering addicts and they spent the entire day with Jamal. His story was only too familiar: drinking and drugging for years and years. We bombarded him with question after question about his family, his upbringing, his education, his work history, his involvement with the law.

Jamal wanted help and we agreed to send him to a drug treatment center in Kentucky.

The following morning as I was driving Jamal to the Baltimore Airport, I could not get rid of a nagging thought in my mind. Something had been left unanswered.

"Jamal, is there something else about yourself that I should know?”

"Well, I guess so, Father. Remember when I said, ‘you the one’?"

“Yeah, what was that all about?”

“ Well, just before you came up, I had already made up my mind I was going to commit suicide. God told me to wait because he was sending somebody to me. Well, you the one He sent. You the one."

My adrenaline began flowing rapidly. My heart began pounding wildly. Suppose I had remained lying in that bed? Would Jamal be alive this morning?

Six months later I flew down to that drug treatment center to see how Jamal was progressing. They told me to have a seat and they would have him brought in shortly.

Soon a young man approached me and said, “Hi, it’s good to see you.”

“Hello, I asked for Jamal."

“I’m Jamal."

I was stunned. I did not recognize the full-fledged 100-percent human being standing in front of me. His skin was clear, his hair neatly braided, his eyes sparkling, his smile captivating. Could this truly be that same miserable creature in rags that was on that bench that cold night? Jamal was alive-alive-alive!

My young brothers and sisters, Jamal was talking not just about me. “You the one!” “You the one!” You who are reading this are the ones God has given the great gift and privilege of being a Catholic. You are the one who God wants to live a life free from drugs and alcohol. You are the one who God wants to reach out to the Jamals of this world and show them by your good example that substance abuse is not the answer.

Let your life clearly demonstrate to all of your peers that Jesus is the answer. “You the one!”

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