The Homeless Immigrant Family and Us (A True Story)

By Greg Schlueter

[ Article is the FULLER STORY / Video is BRIEF SHARING at recent M2W ]


Yesterday was a glorious day. Autumn was in the air. An armada of white, puffy clouds floated on a horizon painted deep, crystal blue. For our family of eight, it was one of those very rare, short breaths between frenetic summer and school activity. The only thing planned was church.  Stepping outside the first time I couldn’t help but take it all in and think, “What a gift.” Little did I know.

What are they doing here?

Making our way toward church we couldn’t escape a couple with two, very young children. They were positioned outside the main entrance with a sign asking for help.

The barrage of questions. Are they legit? Did I bring my wallet? What should I give? Isn’t this someone else’s job? Where is government when you need it? Is there another door?

Discomfort can be a good thing. It can break down the walls of our comfort-crafted worlds designed to keep us incubated, removed from those not like us. To keep us, well, comfortable.  

Reading the newspaper, I’m often struck by the ease with which I can so easily dismiss the plight of the world. Real people with real problems reduced to a page. All I have to do is turn it.

This young family couldn’t be so easily dismissed. They were clearly alone. From another country. The sign spoke of real need. A family does not subject themselves to such humiliation without some kind of need. Their presence commanded a response.  More pointedly, it wasn’t so much about me evaluating the situation, but rather the situation evaluating me.

What am I doing here?

In the next hour my words would profess God as the Supreme Giver. I would not simply petition, but avail myself to being His answer. In sacred ways I would enter into a holy communion. Would there be integrity to my “Amen”? Would my life judge me to be sincere, or merely ceremonious?  

A number of parishioners were moved to give some money. Joining them, I wondered, is that sufficient? I tried to inquire. In fragmentary English the dad expressed that they were Romanian and lived in New York. He had come to Erie expecting a job, but complications with a green card made that impossible. They had spent the prior two nights sleeping in a car. They needed gas money to return. I asked how much he needed. He expressed perhaps $150 or so - for the gas, tolls, food and such. There was an overall feeling of helplessness.

I took his cell phone number just before they were asked to leave the property.

Throughout Mass I could not stop thinking about them. My professions were measuring me. What are they worth? Again, am I sincere, or merely ceremonious? How far would I be willing to go? We have room at our house. Would we make that available if necessary? We don’t have many resources, but the amount we spend on discretionary things could very well be the amount they needed to get home. Which is of greater worth?

I couldn’t help but imagine. What if our situations were reversed? What if we found ourselves, for whatever reason, in their land? If we could not speak the language? If we had absolutely no means? I imagined my wife and children looking to me, depending upon me. Would we not go to a church with a sign? And if not there, where? The thought choked me up.

I had to follow through. After Mass, I had to find someone who spoke Romanian.

Amidst our Sunday brunch and activity, I kept making inquiries, hoping and praying for a return. After a couple hours I finally found a lead for a Romanian Catholic Church in New Jersey.  By providence, Fr. David, an English/ Romanian-speaking priest, answered the phone. An evidently compassionate man, he had given much in life to aid Romanian immigrants for thirty years.

Things moved quickly from there. Fr. David contacted our immigrant friends and called me back, clarifying the circumstances. With due skepticism, he expressed general legitimacy with the story. He advised that $150 should be sufficient to get them back home. I asked him to call them back and arrange for us to meet at the church.

Moments later Fr. David called me back. He reported that the dad, upon hearing our intent, could not stop weeping.

It all happened so quickly I had not given serious thought to the question of where we’d come up with the $150. A thought came to me.

My wife and I founded a nonprofit organization called Image Trinity. Our mission is essentially to invite families to live the adventure of family. By God’s design, we believe that family, in our capacity to love, images the Trinity. Our great mission is to reveal God, Who is love, to the world.

Integral to this movement are monthly events called Made2Worship. Words cannot describe, but here’s an attempt. As the sun gradually sets to uplifting worship, as the church grows darker, a multitude of candles placed upon a tall, pyramidal structure brightly illuminate Jesus in the monstrance. These candles are brought up earlier by participants.

This “Burning Bush” is not simply a powerful symbol of who we are, but of what we are to do. We are illumined by Christ to illuminate Christ.

So I remembered that we had “candle money” from people who purchased candles at the events. But would there be enough? I pulled out the envelope, and counted... yes, $150 exactly.  I was suddenly overcome with an awareness that all this was, and had always been, in the guiding hand of “Someone else.”

My wife and I mustered up some “travel food” and toy items and headed off to meet the family. Their well-worn minivan pronounced a likelihood that this was more than transportation.  My wife stooped down to the little girl and handed her a baby doll. Her bright, brown eyes beamed. She kept kissing her, hugging her, gazing at her, as if to be reassured that it wasn’t a dream.  

With tears streaming down his face, the dad took my hand and kissed it multiple times. He did the same for my wife. He was overwhelmed. In gestures and fragmented words, he repeatedly expressed the best way he could his gratitude, that they would be praying for us.

So, at the end of the day, am I 100% convinced that their story is legit? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that God did His thing. He knew. He put it altogether. He drew us all to worship Him, to illuminate Him with more than mere candles, but with our lives... even if just for one family whose needs in one moment we would never fully understand.

At the end of the day I return to my first thought, “What a gift.”  I am humbly aware that there are the givers and the given. And depending upon the time of day, each of us are both.

At the end of the day I am aware that all is gift... and the greatest value of a gift is its capacity to turn the given into the next giver. And with that, I am so moved as a Catholic Christian to more fully understand that all this is literally embodied in the central sacrament of our faith, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, whose root eucharistas simply means “to give thanks.”

Greg Schlueter and wife Stephanie are parents to seven children in Erie, Pennsylvania. They run a video production company and lead a nonprofit Catholic family movement called Image Trinity. If you are interested in helping them launch an inspiring messaging campaign and aid those in need this coming Fall and December, please check out

Christmas Presence Project 2013: Help Us

We're inviting you to join us in an amazing, epic journey into the heart of Christmas.  

1) Inspiring Messaging campaign. It's about Christmas Presence!
2) Events. Leading up to Christmas
3) Journey. Site, app and booklet.
4) Benefaction. Homeless. Refugees. Pregnant women.

Help us make Advent a major movement - a journey into the heart of Christmas. It's all about Christmas Presence. 
BY CHECK: Made out to"Presence for Christmas" 

Image Trinity / 5039 Roslindale Ave. / Erie, Pa. 16509

For corporate sponsorship interest, please contact Greg Schlueter at 814.864.5755 /

Parents - Where Do You Go After You've Gone Beserk?

Beserkdom. The place where people go beserk.

We've all been there. Of course, it never starts there. It's like a storm. And like any storm, it begins with unsuspecting, white puffy clouds. An unclean room. An outside door left wide open. Muddy tracks on the carpet. An attitudinal sigh. Add warnings. Add mouth. Add typical parental stress. And all of a sudden, walla-- "Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very, frightening...".  You're in Beserkdom. "Galileo!" (we'll get to him later)

You know you've been there after you've left. The storm has passed. Damage done. You're bewildered. Who was that? Was that really me? Of course, some of the clouds are still lingering. I'm going to drop-kick that kid! Sigh.

While I do think God gave us volume modulation for a reason, I don't think there's ever a reason to go beserk. Where now?

First, let's start with the positive. In a society where many think themselves the center of the moral universe, there's nothing like a trip to Beserkdom to bring us back to reality.

Like any other road, the road of life has definite boundaries. These are meant to keep us whole and safe. Going outside of them results in a crash. Beserkdom is a crash. It ought to remind us that we went outside concrete boundaries. It ought to awaken us to awareness that our inner navigation is off, that there's stuff in our own lives in need of healing, in need of transformation.  

When we think of ourselves we should think of a cross. We are both spirit and body. Note the intersection of the vertical (spiritual) and the horizontal (human).

The vertical (spiritual) realm is our "core," consisting of our interior attitudes, thoughts, emotions and feelings. Enter Galileo. These are like planets that are rightly ordered when they move about a center, a sun. Beserk happens because this goes haywire. It happens when we've forgotten who we are. It happens when the Son summarily disappears and all the planets collide. Thus, at heart needs to be an awareness of who we are, made in the image of God, fashioned for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

And if we're truly attuned to who we are, we'll recognize our need to cooperate on the horizontal (human). We have to do our work. We need to recognize the clouds, and be mindful of the succession of steps that pave the way to Beserkdom. 

Often hindsight is helpful. Think of the last time you went beserk and consider, "How could I have recognized it coming? How might I have dealt with that differently?" If in a stress-free space of calm and reason we can imagine averting Beserkdom, the answer is to make sure we have that space of calm and reason when we see potential beserk clouds on the horizon.     

A human understanding goes a long way. 

I have to remember the learning and discovery process, particularly at a pre-teen age. I'm mindful that even as adults we're all on a road we didn't define. The rules of the road we really can't break, only be broken by. 

In the grand scheme, we're all children navigating together. In the grand scheme, our children need more than words, they need our exemplification. Going beserk is being a victim. They need us to show them that circumstances where many may choose to be a victim are an occasion to be victorious.  There's nothing more powerful here than a humble, sincere expression of sorrow, followed by an apology- asking them to pray for you, inviting them to journey together. 

As parents Steph and I are aware of both the challenge and joy in our call to foster good, healthy, respectful conversation in navigating this journey. We desire to validate their capacity to conscientiously think and make decisions... to become aware of "the road" - especially at difficult times and about difficult things in a way that unites us in truth.

We're mindful that using words is not necessarily communication. Communication literally means "with union." It is measured by the degree to which we become one. Against this understanding, going beserk is an oxymoron. It is "communication" that destroys unity. 

We ought to be informed by our childhood experience of parents. We have experienced (directly or indirectly) what happens when parents pass along their wounds - through bitter avoidance, heavy-handedness, passive-aggressiveness, not mindful that these fester and diminish relationships. We're mindful that hurting people hurt people. We don't need to form hurting people, but healing people. We don't need to enable victims, but ennoble the victorious.  

Our kids, like us - need to know and understand that we are not the center of the universe. The road of life does not change it's shape for us.  We do not define it, it defines us.  In honorable and honor-worthy things- even if not completely understood, even if not easy- a "yes Dad" disposition is a building block for success in this world and the next - as it is for us in our relationship to God: "Yes Dad."

It's not about us. It's ultimately not between them and us. It's the mission of St. John the Baptist: "I must decrease, He must increase." It's the mission of Mary: "Do whatever He tells you." 

I post this publicly in hope and prayer that we increasingly become a culture of Godly parents-- humbly by courageously engaged in the journey, loving not simply our children, but all children-- that we are conscious of this highest call... and join one another in raising up children who are fully alive in knowledge of their identity, purpose and mission.

Government and Religion: Where We've Been / Where We're Going (Dr. Mark Jubulis)

A healthy democracy depends upon informed people willing to think, speak and act. In 30 minutes, Dr. Mark Jubulis gives us a timely, clear and compelling tour of the historical relationship between government and religion... where we've been and the critical path we seem to be on.  Please take 30 minutes to listen - then share.

Mark A. Jubulis is Assistant Professor and Chair, Department of History, Political Science, and Legal Studies at Gannon University. He was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Latvia.  This talk was delivered at the Erie Serra luncheon on October 8, 2012.

It's Necessary. Use Words.

We are a society very comfortable (tolerant) with the proclamation of sin, very uncomfortable (intolerant) with proclamation of the truth. In the latter, sometimes people invoke St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words."

A few things.
(1) Look around-- I'd say "it's necessary";
(2) St. Francis was one of the greatest preachers;
(3) Invoking this is "using words" (clearly, we all challenge, the only question is whom / what and why);
(4) Silence and neutrality only help the oppressor, never the oppressed (Elie Wiesel);
(5) One's imperfection is no excuse not to "[p]roclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching." (2 Tim 4:2);
(6) The 2nd law of thermodynamics is applicable to the moral life-- things left alone will go from order to disorder (for evidence, I give you my kids' rooms!).

A civilization of love doesn't just happen. It requires being "built" - certainly in striving to live it - but also in terms of structuring that world through verbal affirmation, challenge, expectation and accountability (what seems to be decisively lacking in parenting today).

If we were as bold in proclaiming the truth as the world is in proclaiming falsehood (with the self-effacing humility that we are imperfect, working it out... that we did not define it- but it defines us), the world might have a shot at knowing the contour of the road and end this perpetual state of crashing.

Tonight's Controversy. The Real Debate...

Tonight is the great controversy. The debate. Just not the one you’re thinking of.

The presidential debate is significant enough. Let’s consider why. Many of us will be “plugged in” because it’s a drama over a balance of power. There are great implications. And we are in the driver’s seat. We’re given determinative power. For that we will be held accountable. We ought to be invested.

It moves me to consider how vested I am in the greatest drama over a balance of the greatest power.

How vested are we in the debate in our own souls and the soul of our marriages and families? Are there not great implications? Are we not in the driver’s seat? Given determinative power in the seeking? For which we will be held accountable?

Is it enough to merely call ourselves Catholic, indeed, even to “do” the Catholic “thing”?

Recently homecoming took place for Catholic high schools. Events such as these put the question of our real Catholicity on center stage. For whatever reason, during this week I was privy to culture among some parents and students: Where the F-word was used casually and common. Where many parents assumed their kids were going to have sex, or drink, and advised them… indeed, in some cases provided for them, accordingly.

This would be Judgment if I stood back in self-righteous indignation, not mindful of my own absolute imperfection, absolute dependency upon God… without awareness of my complicity in all this.

Yes, my complicity.

Beyond words and actions which come so easily, does my life give reason for others to believe in the REAL, relevant, transforming, life-giving, all-consuming power of Jesus Christ alive in our faith? Or merely paint a picture of “yada, yada”? No one needs yada, yada.

We readily acknowledge God as the source of all power, but what do our real-life commitments reveal about what we really believe? About whom or what is really our lord? Whom or what are we allowing to parent our children? In our homes, how do we spend our time? How do we speak to one another? What do we allow to be viewed and heard? More importantly, what vision and values do we model and place before our children?

One of the best indications of where we really stand is our calendar. What makes it to our calendar, worthy of commitment? What does it reveal about our priorities? About our real lord? What are these priorities really accomplishing for us of meaningful, enduring value?

Our Spirit-inspired, loving Shepherd, Pope Benedict, has been using his crosier (the shepherd’s staff) on many of us who, in spite of our external “look,” really are the lost one away from the 99: Our lives may exhibit all the formal commitment of faith, but under the hood— in the realm of our desires, translating to commitments, translating to the totality of our lives - are we really Catholics? (read his Jesus of Nazareth series)

I am so challenged… so moved… to bridge the great divide between what I profess and who I really am. I recognize my incompleteness, my imperfection, my failure. I recognize the implications for my marriage, family, community. I want to see these integrated. Whole. Holy.

This is a new moment.

For those of us who live in Erie, the ordination of our new bishop is an invitation to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not just in some conceptual idea of “church”, but in our personal lives.

If we are to be the real deal Catholic Christians, faith must be more than external behavior compliance. More than memorized motions. More than a moment. More than filling pews. More than self-perpetuation. More than what’s easy. More than a cliche. More than a club. More than a culture. More than a job.

Ironically, many leave church because they intuitively know there's MORE... but are given little reason to believe leaders are conscious and MISSION MOTIVATED by the MORE... a MORE that has the capacity to command the totality of energy, talent, innovation, genius, resources of one's life.

If not, why bother?

An authentic encounter with the MORE impels one to give ALL. If that is not happening... if it does not define the totality of purpose... of every message, program and resource- if it does not ignite, unite and motivate every individual to give the best they have for that purpose, then we are merely spinning wheels... perpetuating a vision of Christ as dead man's bones.

Show me leaders (priests, parents, people) who are... who seek to be... ALL IN because they have encountered the real, relevant, defining, all-consuming, transforming power of Christ ... and we will see the Church... the world, FULLY ALIVE!

The heart is the encounter. If we authentically encounter Jesus Christ, TRULY encounter Him - we can not help but fall in love with Him and live for Him... see Him in who we are, who informs all we are to do.

And so we began Made2Worship. It’s not our innovative idea. It’s not about the worship, word and witness - but an encounter with Him. Jesus is on center stage. We need Him. He's REAL. He promised, “Upon this ROCK I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). He wants to ROCK our lives, ROCK our families, ROCK this place.

Come join us tonight. 7pm. Confession begins at 6:30 p.m. (M2W is the first Wednesday of every month. Pray about marking your calendar.)