The House of Hagar
Mustard Seed Mountain
|Posted on April 15, 2017 at 6:45 PM||comments (219)|
My heart quickened as I saw the police lights out front of the HoH. I was walking home from St. Joseph’s Cathedral from Holy Thursday’s Mass of The Lord’s Supper, thinking of the Christ who washed the feet of the Disciples..all of their feet. From betraying Judas to denying Peter, and all in between, the God of all Creation, stooped down as a Servant and washed their dirty feet. He then told His disciples that he had given them a model of Love to follow. This was about more than just taking a Servants role though..Jesus could of just cleared the disciples dishes, or chose some other Servant’s task but Jesus chose to wash feet- the dirtiest, lowest ranking of servant jobs.
Yet feet washing, back in the day, was a form of hospitality .. Jesus took the dirty job of hospitality and told us to do likewise. I was thinking about this, when I saw the police lights. Now distracted from my thoughts, I hurried up the street, fearing something was wrong at the house. One of my adopted kiddos came bounding down the sidewalk to meet me. “What’s going on?”, I asked. “Drug bust”, the kiddo exclaimed, too knowingly. He went on to tell me how a car got pulled over for not using a turn signal at the stop sign. Then the Police searched the car and brought out several bags of drugs. A crowd was gathering in front of the HoH, as the police took away both the drugs and the man.
I sighed. Too often, we see the effects of drugs in our neighborhood. From those who try to seek refuge from life’s pain in them, to those attempting to get out of poverty by selling them, or those now so addicted and controlled by them they submit to dark activities that demean their priceless dignity for a few bucks to buy more, to the countless secondary victims, like the kiddo talking to me.
Life in our neighborhood can be vibrant, beautiful and full of friendship..but as with many places that have faced poverty and being a community, where the majority have been minorities, there is also the wounds, sometimes scarred, sometimes healing and sometimes still festering and open due to lack of social justice. I can say watching what has happened to too many of those I love in our neighborhood- I hate drugs with a passion, but I love it’s people to the point of aching passion as well.
This scene, coming from the Lord’s Supper rattled me..this guy being taken away for his crimes. The crowd was talking about “how long” he might get sentenced for. Some were commenting he got what he deserved, some who knew him looked worried, others laughed, others speculated his circumstances and others just starred or shook their heads. I thought of Good Friday, and Jesus being arrested, taken away, and eventually being sentenced to death..Why..because He loved us past the point of the krap in each of our metaphoric “cars”, minor sins, such as a forgotten turn signal, to those “controlling substances”, whatever they may be, tucked away until we are further searched..I thought of my own sins, some that would bore you, some that might shock you, and some so evident, as the too many cookies I eat. I thought of how there is not a sin of mine that Jesus died more or less for-He died for all of them, each of them and told me I was worth far more than any of them -Him. His Mercy gave me the unmeasurable worth of His Love. His “death sentence” on The Cross, gave me an Eternal Life of His Love- A Risen Love…. Mercy, did not tell me I was perfect, Mercy loved me with something that was -Jesus. I said a prayer and hoped the man being taken away would encounter this love. I hoped he would know we equally shared in the same Savior.
I have been asked several times, why I choose to live my life as a Catholic Worker, and I can tell you I was called to it…by a Jesus, who washes feet…to include my feet. I fell in love with this Jesus who did not shame the Sinner, but persisted in demonstrating Love, telling them to do likewise. Even when Jesus knew His disciples would have to gain a greater understanding of His Love, He still brought them to the Table, He still washed their dirty feet, and fed them with all He had -Himself, Love Incarnate. Jesus, showed even the defunct disciples the Hospitality of Heaven. And so, I too, joined the ranks of ” learning to live love” disciples who have found Christ’s model being lived out in the Catholic Worker houses, such as the House of Hagar.
Catholic Worker Houses are called to be Hospitality houses in light of Jesus’s Love..not like the Hyatt or the Holiday Inn..but like the Hospitality found in the room at the Lord’s Last Supper, like the Hospitality found on the Cross…like the Hospitality of The Resurrection..The Hospitality that says we are all welcome in The Heart of God, by His Mercy. This is the hospitality that gathers in the drug dealers, the users, the prostitutes, the orphans, the police, the lawyers, the judges, everyone around one table, all in need of the same Mercy-Jesus . It is the Hospitality that tells us we are more than the dirt on our feet, with a love that bows to wipe it off without shaming us, but guiding us into the Truth of who we are each called to be. It is the Hospitality that tells us we are the ones God came for..and we won’t understand who we are until we give in to this Hospitality and let Jesus Love us…and then, well, then- we know how He loves everybody!
As we Celebrate this Easter season, please know, that as we pray for our neighborhood, we also pray for each of you who so often bring God’s Hospitality to the House of Hagar. Thanks be to God for each of you! Please keep us in your prayers too. May you feel the Heart of our Risen Lord all around you!
|Posted on July 12, 2016 at 9:20 PM||comments (332)|
Was it ironic coincidence that the morning Scripture Readings at Mass this morning was about the Good Samaritan (LK 10:25-37).
Our Priest reminded us of the story.- .A “scholar of the law” asked Jesus who his “neighbor” was. Jesus told a tale of a Jewish man who fell victim to robbers. They stripped, beat and left him half-dead in a ditch. A Jewish Priest happened to be walking by and saw him, and walked to the other side of the road. A bit later a Jewish Levite walked by and saw the hurt man, but he too crossed to the other side of the street. But then a Samaritan traveler came upon him and was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. He then lifted him and put on his own animal and took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instructions, “'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back. ‘Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim? " He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
This message from Mass was in such contrast to what I came home and read in the Sunday News- Register in an article entitled “How To Handle Wheeling-Area Panhandlers” http://www.theintelligencer.net/opinion/local-columns/2016/07/how-to-handle-wheeling-area-panhandlers/
Tears welled up in my eyes, as a poverty greater than money became more evident paragraph by paragraph, as the article’s author went on about trying to end panhandling in our area. One of my fellow Homeless Outreach Workers, Crystal Bauers, who is both a nurse and a friend, put it this way in the article’s online comment section, “The following words were used to describe panhandlers in this article: infested, human leeches, human trash, human parasites, obnoxious creeps, frauds, immoral unethical culprits, unsavory and unscrupulous characters, and miscreants. I'm embarrassed for the person who wrote it. “
The oh so recent story of the Good Samaritan had my heart reeling…and my friend’s words continued “Yes, many struggle from addiction. What you don't know is, what came first, homelessness or addiction? The human beings that are being described are also: sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, friends, and most important Human Beings.
You do not know them, or their story. Some of them are plagued by serious mental illness, which no one would pick. Some are victims of neglect, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse throughout childhood. Some are victims of domestic violence. Some were sent through the state foster care system, which if you know anything about is Hell in itself. Some have lost their jobs, followed by their house, and everything else. Some have chronic physical illness and want to work but their illness keeps them from being able to. Some were not addicts but turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situation. Some do get disability but cannot live on it and afford rent in this city for what many would consider a dump.”
Suddenly, the Good Samaritan Story was very real! In the story Jesus told, both the Priest and the Levite walked by the hurt half-dead man...neither stopped to inquire what his actual problem was…OR perhaps they KNEW what it was. Perhaps, he was the sloppy town drunk, robbed by those at the local brewery, with his addiction making him an easy target. Perhaps, he laid there in a ditch, beat up, robbed, bleeding, maybe even covered in urine. Perhaps, they would have used “infested, human leech, human trash, human parasite, obnoxious creep, fraud, immoral unethical culprit/victim, unsavory and unscrupulous character, or a miscreant.” as the word to describe him -Words that would allow them to cross to the other side of the street and ignore him in his broken state. The words of the author stung in similarity: “ I implore you, completely ignore these unscrupulous and unsavory characters — who have actually been known to urinate and defecate in public — and these miscreants will have no choice but to move elsewhere or just maybe, change their devious ways! “
Maybe it is us who need to change our ways! Perhaps it has never been the Panhandlers-but how we handle ourselves that should be in question. I am friends with several people experiencing homelessness and sometimes privy to what those panhandling are hoping to collect enough money for: A phone card to call a loved one, cigarettes, a bus ticket, batteries, propane, money that would allow them in a business to drink a cup of coffee and use the restroom etc.. Many homeless do not have addictions and not all panhandlers have addictions but let’s talk about the ones that do!
Yes, there are homeless folks addicted to cigarettes, some addicted to alcohol, some who self-medicate with pot, and a few who choose even more deadly drugs – this is true. However, speaking back to the author of the article, “ I hate to be the harbinger of one of life’s realities”, addicts are going to have addictive behaviors. These behaviors typically are the same in both the rich and the poor. The rich just have more ways to hide it… In this Valley, unfortunately almost all of us know someone who is dealing with a family member who has an addiction. Ignoring them is not the answer. Is it a surprise that someone sick with an addiction would portray sick behavior or make unhealthy choices? Before we write them off however, maybe we should do as Crystal suggested and take a moment to understand what we are seeing.
The traveling Samaritan in Jesus’s story was able to do this! The Samaritan had not fallen prey to prejudice, or been robbed of the ability to SEE the HUMAN in front of him. Because the Samaritan, did not see a label, be it of a “drunk”, “miscreant” or otherwise, he was able to SEE a hurting human and access the care he truly needed.
If we started from this view point, we might begin to see “addiction” is often the secondary infection of another wound or illness. We might begin to understand how being raped night after night as a child might lead someone to try to escape in drugs.
Or let’s talk about HOMELESS Veterans. With the nearly 50,000 Veterans that are homeless on any given night. So what do we call those who “fly their sign” in hopes of getting enough money for a pack of cigarettes and the bottle of Jack that drowns out the war that won’t stop following them. Sadly, 22 Vets a day take their own life. Surely the use of derogatory words does not help, if they have found they have found themselves behind a piece of begging cardboard.
Or the fellow who can’t get a job, because he doesn’t have an ID. He can’t get the ID until he gets a birth certificate. Which he needs $50.00 to order from the state he was born in…except he doesn’t have $50.00. And then he needs to get his Social Security card, which he needs an ID to get, but he needs the birth certificate and proof of an address to get a state ID…If he gets the birth certificate; he then needs to find a way to Moundsville…no buses go to Moundsville…So he needs money for a taxi from Wheeling to Moundsville (at least $40.00) and $7.00 for the ID- That is, if he can find someone to write him a letter and let him use their address for the ID.. So after he has rounded up $97.00 and an address, he can then he can go back to the Social Security to get his card and try to find a job…All this of course can only be easily navigated if he does not have any cognitive delays.
OR the "Shamed", what happens to the person who has lost everything, and then has to poop and pee outside because no one will let “that homeless” person in their home or business to go to the bathroom. How crushed does a soul become when it is stuck outside and cannot even properly wash up after going to the bathroom, hoping to have toilet paper -and hoping you are not a female with feminine issues. At what point does the soul become so crushed it becomes despairing or savage, or in a state of survival seeks comfort in a temporary fix? The down trodden, the abused, the abandon, the addict, the mentally ill, the Vet with PTSD or the mentally handicapped …the list goes on and on - All these can be found in the ditch of poverty.
So what about panhandling? Let’s talk about justifying someone’s ability to write off, wish away, or demean humans. It is much easier to call people names, to label them with crude terms, and dismiss ourselves from caring, when we can explain how little the “other” deserves OUR RESPECT. When we cannot show humane respect or care about someone, we cannot accurately assess what they need to be healthy… If our lens is a demeaning one, then we cannot see that ignoring these folks is the last thing they need!
The author of the article on panhandling hopes, that if funds are withheld “the low-lives” will just leave our area or change their ways…This has nothing to do with healing the problem –Just making the “low lives” go away –become someone else’s problem- not his. Yet this is not what Jesus teaches about “loving one’s neighbor”. He instructs that we are suppose to care and have Mercy on those in life’s ditches. Here is the rub- It is not just what we do but how and why we do it.
If it is just because you don’t want to see “human trash” and don’t want to waste your money-Keep it! You are not in a position to help a suffering person anyhow and have your own ditch to get out of. If however, you care, then there are some serious things to consider- Give CHANGE!
The Samaritan in the story really is a good example for us in this situation. He is traveling and on his way to some place. Isn’t this often our predicament also when we see panhandlers. We are on the move. Sometimes with a bit of time to spare and sometimes not. The Samaritan, could see there were at least three needs. These are the ones I would like to address. First, the Samaritan did not act with prejudice but with humanity. Treating someone with respect and humanity is first. Second, acknowledge the immediate need and do what is in your ability-Even if it is only to Pray. Third, recognize that long term care and healing is needed and financially support those able to do it!
When Jesus asked who the “Good Neighbor” was in His tale, the Scholar of Law answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." How do we as a community, go and be merciful...Well, mercy allows for Change and Healing, so this is a good thing to keep in mind as we decide on OUR actions towards our hurting community members.
“Change” might not always come in the form of money, and Healing might not only come from a doctor in a white coat. As a Community, we are also a family of sorts. And as Christians, we are called to help create Heaven’s family and help those in the “ditches”, the same way God came into each of ours. So what do we do?
1. Give a small moment of Humanity-Smile and treat those panhandling with kindness. By showing Respect, you are also teaching it.
2. Carry “Blessing Bags” – Ziploc bags filled with useful items like a soft granola bar (some folks don’t have teeth) or other snacks, chap stick, baby wipes, q-tips, tissues, playing cards, tooth brush, tooth paste, razor, shaving cream, socks, feminine items for ladies, seasonal items such as sunscreen or hand warmers AND put in phone numbers of area resources that can help. An addict “jonesing” might not get excited about it at the moment, but it will all be useful items that they need at some point. That is care! Helping them hopefully get one day closer to treatment. The phone numbers will not only give them access to further help but show them you care about their long term future as well.
3. If you have time, find out what they really need. Be direct. Tell them you do not have cash, but will go to the store for a small item. Many folks will tell you, “I need a phone card”, “batteries” , “A pack of smokes”, “food”. Ask them their name and use it while talking to them. Then decide if you can help them with that need. (I am an ex-smoker and I tell them that. So I also tell them I cannot buy cigarettes because that was my addiction, so I ask them to tell me something else I can go to the store for.) Again, carry cards with local resource phone numbers on it. Give it to them and pray with them or tell them you will –and do it.
4. If you decide to give money, give as a secondary action. Remember “Change” is what you really want to give them. Tell them! “Hey Bro/Sista, it’s only a little bit of money but I’m praying to a big God for you friend.” –and then do it.
5. Got Work? – If you have a small job that you are comfortable offering-do. There are several homeless who are very skilled in yard work and small engine and construction but do not have an id to get a "regular" job – Call an organization that works with the homeless and see if there is anyone they would recommend.
6. Give a Voice. - If you have time, ask them. “Hey I want to get involved with local agencies helping those who are struggling. Tell me one thing you think would help, because I want to tell them what you think.” The poor are not often asked what they think.
7. It should always be a human right to ask another human for help. However, if you ever see someone being aggressive or in a “crisis” state-Call the police. It might be the opportunity to get them to help.
8. Give both money and time to local organizations helping the poor. Also by helping, you’ll soon find you know almost all the names, and stories of those standing on corners and you’ll have a better understanding of their circumstances. This will add another layer in being better able to access the longer term care they really need.
9.Don't pass the buck! Engage in finding a solution by learning the real dynamic of the problems. Help create creative solutions (both through organizations and community efforts) ,and policies that work (like a mobile ID center that comes to Wheeling once a month) both locally and on a state and federal level.
10. Point out prejudicial and inhumane behavior. When we allow someone to demean, devalue or dismiss a human in our community for whatever reason they feel justified to do so, we are opening the door for someone else to treat another in the same manner for whatever reason they hold. Be it socio-economic, race, gender, religion, what-ever, we should be striving for a more connected caring community because we are a Friendly City-This is healthy…I’m holding my cup out to you-Wheeling for that!
|Posted on February 16, 2016 at 2:30 AM||comments (47)|
Of all the Liturgical Celebrations, Christmas to Easter, it often surprises folks that Ash Wednesday is my favorite. This is a pretty funny turn of events even for me because I did not grow up Catholic or even in a Christian denomination that observed Lent. I can’t say I had even heard of the word before moving to Wheeling, WV. Perhaps it could have been that coming from a vast and fast paced city out West it was lost to me by the mere fact that it was not part of the life experience of those that surrounded me. I did have two Catholic friends at one point, so perhaps it was because I was just at a place in my teenage life I just didn’t care about religious observances. Whatever the cause, the situation of people with ashes smeared on their foreheads was new to me. My first encounter was quite embarrassing. Having just moved to Wheeling and falling in love with the rich and deep sense of community and cultures that Wheeling has to offer I was beginning to get to know people, peirogies and just what a “pepperoni roll” was.
I remember the day well ..It was cold and crisp out, sunshine teasing me that it would soon warm up. And I was soooo confused! Everywhere I went it looked like folks had dirt on their forehead. I tried to figure out what was going on. Had there been a dust storm? I knew about Arizona dust storms. Maybe it was like a coal dust storm…but that didn’t make any sense, because then dirt would have been all over their faces, not just in one spot. Hmm…Had all these people been in the same place and had to duck under a pole of some sort…all of them a bit too tall…but that didn’t explain the kid with the dirt on his forehead..Huh…
I went to Krogers…the situation was only getting worse. I saw a lady I sort of knew. We made small talk but I could hardly focus on her eyes because mine were continually being drawn to the mysterious mark on her forehead. I thought of how I appreciate it when someone is friend enough to let me know when my mascara is running or my zipper is down. Shy as a newbie to the area, I first tried the suggestive “wipe my own forehead off” move…She didn’t buy in and wipe hers off. Finally I gently said, “I think a bit of dirt or dust or something got on your forehead “ and I offered her a tissue to wipe it off. She looked at me like I was crazy and just pushed off with her cart. Fast. Ugh! Later that day, I ran into a friend I knew better with dirt on her forehead and I asked her just what was going on! I was horrified to learn about this thing called “Lent” and “Ash Wednesday”…and the forehead dirt was on purpose. Face palm!
It wasn’t long before I found that I was not just falling in love with Wheeling but God…yep, the one that got people to put dirt on their heads…I fell in love with the God who would come as a poor vulnerable baby wanting to be loved, to the same God who would refuse to stop Loving even the Sinners nailing Him to a Cross..And then Ash Wednesday suddenly became my favorite Liturgical Celebration- it holds both Christmas and Easter in context. As an artist myself, I find it the most visually telling celebration of God's Love for us all. If I could only take someone to Mass/Church one time, this would be the day!
It is very interesting that the palms from the year’s prior Palm Sunday are burnt and made into ash, but it is the next step that intrigues me. EVERYONE, Priest/Pastor, Choir, Readers, Altar Servers, Ushers, those in the front pews, those in the back pews, everyone has ashes placed on their foreheads with the words “Remember that you are dust and from dust you shall return”. There is something morbid and marvelous in these words. They are honest. Hello Church- Look around- See for yourself who goes to Church!
So many images flood my mind…but I can’t help of thinking of God making Adam and Eve from dust- An Artist at work creating something beloved. Yet I also think of the ashes from a house burned down. The sad remains of something not as it should be. Suddenly everyone is on level ground. All are marked with Ash, acknowledging their Creator and their need to be something more than they are. It is the best visually equalizing moment in the Church! No one is better than another. And THEN, the great, GREAT AND THEN: we have Communion! As the Priest/Pastor stands with ashes markedly on their own forehead, acknowledging his or her sin, holding up The Host to a fellow brother or sister with ashes markedly on their forehead..it is here I would begin to explain the Story of God's Life Giving Love for us all...it is one of the most beautiful and powerful images of The Church. The dead come to Life-God.
But Ash Wednesday is also about being in a season of Lent, a continued story as the year’s prior palms remind us…so our story while it might be a rising from the ashes, unlike the mythological Phoenix, acknowledges that we need both a Savior, and continuous help!
On Ash Wednesday this point took a great allegorical form for us as a Piano Tuner came to tune the HoH piano (thanks Nathan for this great gift!). As I watched the Tuner play some tunes, adjust, hit a few more notes and so on, I thought, this is what Lent is for me. The HoH piano is a well loved instrument around here. It certainly is not perfect by any means, but it is something that brings great joy to our community. Taking time to have it tuned is a way of valuing what it does and helps it to do it better. Spending time with God, asking Him to help adjust and tune, teaching us to be better instruments of His Love is both a way to value ourselves and how our relationship serves others.
Recently, my son missed the bus and I was driving him to school. I was enjoying both the music on the radio and the opportunity to sit with my son even if it was because he overslept. I was happy and daydreaming. My foot was on auto pilot maintaining the speed of the highway I usually drive on…except I wasn’t on that highway. I was on one with a much lower speed limit. I was completely unaware of my error until I saw the police man! What was my first thought?! Lent! This is also what Lent is for-those places where we have developed autopilot responses, no longer doing things with intentionality. Living in an intentional manner gives us a space to value what we are doing and consider the why and the how of it as well. When the Piano Tuner finished tuning the HoH piano he played an amazing piece…the piano was never humiliated, or thought less of for needing the Tuner’s help. It was actually a way of recognizing the importance of both the Piano Tuner and the instrument. We need God and God wants us as His instrument – Lent holds a long term look at our earthly and Heavenly future-We are God's. Once the piano was tuned, it has been wonderful watching everyone wanting to play on it. There has been excitement, "ohhs" and "ahhs". Pieces intentionally picked and played to hear the sound and range of the notes. Love.
Lent is falling in Love. Yes, it is a time to recognize our sin, our imperfections but it is just as much of a time to recognize that God wanted to love us anyway, and it is THIS LOVE that draws up and out of ashes into a new creation of His doing…As those musically inclined played the newly tuned piano with such Joy, it inspired others to get out their instruments, a violin, a harmonica, vocals and at one point, a kazoo. Love inspired more love. Our Lent should do that as well…Are we valuing our relationship with God, asking God to help us be the best instrument we can be by letting Him take time to tune us in His Love, are we intentionally valuing what we are doing and how we are doing it, and finally, are we being an instrument that inspires and invites others to use their Gifts in this Great Love song we are called to live out?
I now wear those crazy ashes on my head with great pride…no matter if they are in the shape of a cross, a squiggle or a line looking like I ran into a pole…it means a great deal to me. No one has ever approached me with an offer to help wipe it off, but I would glady decline and explain it means that Lent is here and I love God…and that He loves me much more….and that He is going to keep teaching me ways to perfect pitch how much He Loves each of you!
|Posted on November 28, 2015 at 11:10 PM||comments (48)|
The Murder of a Mattress, Misery and A Merry Christmas
Most of us when we hear the words “New Year”, we think of January 1st of some year to which humans will make resolutions, as well as propel history...by keeping or not keeping them. New Years gives us time to reflect on our history, our future, to take time to admit how we ate too many cookies and gained more than Facebook friends over the course of the year or to set goals on how we would like to become more healthy, finish school, do something worthwhile...What ever it is, a New Year often gives us pause to reflect on ourselves; at minimum we have to account for our physical being in the passing of time...But The Church also has a Liturgical Year as well, filled with seasons that help us journey through our Spiritual life, as much as Spring prepares us for growth and fall leaves direct us to ready ourselves for the cold. The Liturgical Year not only provides an opportunity for us to set a path of Scripture readings so that we might work our way from the front pages to the last pages letting our hearts travel through The Great Love Story of God, while also appointing specific times for us to take a closer look at critical parts of our story in God -be it Lent and our recognition that we need a Savior during Holy Week to Easter, Pentecost, or to taking time to reflect on The Lord's and our own Baptisms and His Teachings, Eschatology, and circling back around to Advent is all a way to ever deepen our faith, but the year's end is also a time to take pause, to reflect on both our personal Spiritual Journey and that of The Church's. It is a good time to take stock in what has changed in our lives and what hasn't.
As we close this Liturgical Year what keeps surfacing in my heart is the thought of “what holds us”. What captivates our soul and where is that passion leading us- me. Here at The House of Hagar Catholic Worker, I often feel like just one day holds a novel worth of stories. The door swings open again and again. A kid from the neighborhood, a few homeless neighbors trying to get out of the rain, they dig through a massive stack of coats collected by a 1st grader, another who has no utilities under their roof who needs water and an outlet, another Catholic Worker grabbing a cup of coffee to hang out with those dodging raindrops gathered on the porch, the post man drops off three boxes filled with hats and scarves, foster kids running up and down the stairs happily playing, fostering our hearts to remember kids need innocence and not so much harsh reality, someone stops by, a Holy Helper for sure with cans of chicken noodle soup, another follows with toilet paper- a hotter commodity at the HoH then a newspaper fresh off the press...this is just in an hour of our day! Yet the many lives that walk through the front door of the Catholic Worker are so intertwined now, that never again can we be individual tales..we are a series of novels, never again being able to un-effect each other. This power to effect someone, to change someone's life is seen through out our community. From folks doing kind deeds for each other. A homeless man bringing me money to give to another homeless man -asking if I would take it to him with a blanket because in a sadden and shocked voice he wanted me to know there was “a ol' black man sleeping on the ground!”, said the white middle aged man to me. I knew where he himself slept on the ground. His concern for his neighbor choked me up – I wondered if I had lost the shock in my voice? There were two men sleeping on the street! Dear God! To the neighbors with building skills, helping another with home repair, building something greater than a building! So many acts of conspired Love.
But we see the effects of pain in our community too. One of our beautiful Grow OV Farm Mangers , Jocelyn, was telling me a few months ago how at arriving at our urban Farm 18, outside of the fence across the farm in the alley there was a women jumping up and down on a mattress, screaming a fellows name and how she was going to kill him. Her words were so raw, so intentional and so descriptive that Jocelyn was not sure if the person was under the mattress. By the time Jocelyn had the police on the phone, the women had ran into her house, got a knife and was stabbing the mattress screaming how much she hated the said person. Jocelyn was now very sure that if a person was under the mattress it was not going to be good. By the time the police arrived, the women had set the mattress on fire and Jocelyn was running with a hose, as the hundred year old tinder box houses lining the alley loomed closely as witnesses. The Police, sauntered out of their vehicle...Why weren't they running! Jocelyn was running to them! She started telling them what was going on! How she had witnessed a murder of at least a mattress but the lady was talking as if someone was under it-a fellow named –-------. They seemed unimpressed as the smoke waffed from the mattress, the garden hose having taken up its heroic cause. “Oh that is just -----------, she has been killing him for 15 years.” the officer said in a very reasonable voice.
But what is reasonable about waking up for 15 years with murder on your heart. What had happened to this poor soul that could not escape the terrors that she could not stomp, stab or burn out of her mind...I think about and pray for this poor lady a lot..for what is killing her.
A lot of what we see here is a result of pain.cycles of abuse, reactions of rejections, hardship overloads, systemic issues of social injustices, institutional upbringings..addictions created because perhaps when violence is understood not to be an answer, than self-medicating and hiding in a high is...until the addictions cause their own pain..new open wounds, pulsing fresh miseries.
We had to bury our friend Gary a few weeks ago. Gary was the longest living street person I knew- over 12 years on the street. Well, he actually lived under the bridge with his best friend Albert. When Gary was drunk, his cheeks were rosy, and his jolliness along with his white beard and hair left folks with the feeling of hanging out with Santa..well a Santa with perhaps a well versed vocabulary..He could make us all laugh. Gary was a favorite of many. If you were homeless, you wanted to know Gary. He could teach you how to survive. Everyone knew Gary, he was a legend. ...but when the alcohol ran dry, and the miseries of addiction scrapped against the wounds of a broken heart...another legend surfaced...Gary's past. Then the hurt, angry, tired Gary surfaced...this Gary did not look like Santa..this Gary did not look joyful...this Gary wept about the wife that had cheated on him. He would then go on in solemn gratitude to tell of a father who stopped him from committing murder. His father watched as Gary took a gun from his gun cabinet, got in his truck and went to kill the wife and her boyfriend. Gary's Father, got in his car and ran his son off the road..stopping him from committing a wretched crime...But Gary's hurt while it subsided never went completely away..so he ran away and ran to Wheeling, WV...where he ran himself, his hurt off the road, under a bridge with alcohol. He created a new family, new friends on the street. He would say he wanted to be homeless, he was free...but we knew he wasn't... an ache still chased him..Eventually the alcohol caught up to Gary..On his last days his friends surrounded his bedside, they held out love...mostly though, God held out His Faithful Love- Love that had been waiting a lifetime for Gary to crash into. Gary is not Homeless anymore-He never was suppose to be- Gary always had a Home in God, he finally stepped into it.
As this Liturgical Year ends and we head into Advent, leaning into Christmas ...I think of the plastic white lit up Nativity set at Neely's, our local convenient store. It is nestled amongst cigarette ads glowing in the darkness. There- this reminds me that Jesus is on streets of East Wheeling. The Jesus that came into our mess, into our addictions, our wounds, hurts and pain, so passionate for us...so wanting to hold us and to break those holds that control us and bind up our freedom. In these harsh realities of broken innocence a Merry Christmas is found for many of us..The real Gift of Christmas is opened. Here- where Jesus chose to be born where things aren't always good...in our brokenness and sin we get to glimpse The Christ Child. Hold Him. Vulnerable to us, wanting our love. Here, too He would die on a Cross for us- God With Us. He didn't come into the place where “it's all good” but into a place where His Saving Love was undeniably needed. This is what we All have to open this Christmas. ….and so we are a million more stories, unable to be un-effected, because we are all wrapped up, intertwined and held captive in the Heart of God!
Resolution: The door opens again, it is a new set of foot steps-someone I know this house is called to Love- because God does, as He did last year, this year and into the Heaven of endlessness where years are not needed.
...And until then He will also keeps sending His Holy Helpers bearing soup,blankets, Love and toilet paper! Thank you!!!!!!!
|Posted on August 21, 2015 at 11:20 PM||comments (2510)|
Prisoner #16670 and The Interrogation of My Heart
It was recently the Feast day of Fr. Maximum Kolbe, a Franciscan Friar who died in the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in 1941. Usually when the year roles around August 14th, I carve a sacred space out of the day to reflect on Fr. Kolbe’s life but more his death. His death reflects so much of Christ’s Love and I am drawn to it with the same conundrum of emotions I feel when thinking of Jesus’s death. This year though, perhaps not unsacred itself, but work nonetheless did not grant me the space usually assigned to that date and I have not been able to shake the feeling of loss.
Like many other Christian’s who stood up and spoke out against the Nazi’s, Fr. Kolbe, a Catholic priest was sent to Auschwitz to pay for his defiance. Fr.Kolbe was stripped of his habit, given a worn prisoner's outfit and the name #16670. It has been recorded though that even through the nightmarish hell and abuse he suffered in the concentration camp, Fr. Kolbe still acted as a Priest. Often after working inhumane hours, eduring beatings and living on little bits of bread, he risked further beatings by leaving his bed late at night and crawled on the floor, going from bed to bed to hear confessions and pray with those facing some of the darkest history of our humanity. What conundrum and Cross he must have felt. Did this man filled with Heaven’s Love feel as if he had been sent to hell? Surely, the splinters of the Cross must of tore into his hands as he crawled on the floor, to hear prayers of those feeling forsaken by God, piercing his own heart under its weight. Yet Fr. Kolbe loved life and encouraged joy, prayer and song. His body might have been locked in a treacherous prison camp but there was something about his Spirit that was free.
One morning however, when it was time for roll call and the prisoners were to told to line up, one prisoner was missing. Auschwitz, in all its evil, held a policy that if someone did not report for roll call and was assumed escaped, ten men would be chosen to die in his place the slow cruel death of starvation. Fr. Kolbe watched that morning as 10 men were chosen by the Nazi officer on duty to die in the starvation cell known as the “Death Block”. As the Nazi officer lined them up to lead them away, one Jewish man cried out “Oh my poor wife, Oh my poor children. I shall never see them again.”. At that, Fr. Kolbe stepped out of the ranks and bravely walked up to the Nazi Officer. Fr. Kolbe stated that he was a Catholic Priest, and was requesting to take the man who had cried out's place. Everyone fell silent, guards, prisoners- everyone. In a place where man had to struggle every day and mere survival was all that could barely be hoped for, no one had ever asked this, had ever volunteered to die in another’s place. Shock must of deepened as the Nazi solider agreed and one man was exchanged for another in Death’s Line of humans it had gathered.
There is overwhelmingly so much to think about in this story that I hope you can see why my heart is captivated by it every August 14th…but today, I am thinking of The Last Supper with Christ. Like Christ, Fr. Kolbe knew that man needed a savior. He did not ask for a moment to speak with the doomed man to see if he was “qualified” to receive Fr. Kolbe’s life in lieu of his own. This man wasn’t even of the same Faith as Fr. Kolbe! Surely, Fr. Kolbe could have thought, must have thought about all those of his own Faith whose beds he crawled to night after night. Surely, they needed him, deserved his life more than this stranger…He was their Priest! Surely, if he was to give his life up for someone, he could at least wait until it was for one of his “own” people…heck, while this was surely an unjust death sentence, how did he even know this man was good or if he went on living would do anything good? He could even wait until it was at least for a well-known “good person”!...But Fr. Kolbe didn’t ask any of those questions. He acted like Jesus, and laid his life down for someone who needed a savior because he knew his Savior, Jesus.
The man, Fr. Kolbe gave his life up for had not done anything deserving death and in essence, Fr. Kolbe gave him his bread, and his life as he stepped into his “sentence” of starvation. Today I am thinking of The Last Supper and The Cross in relation to Fr. Kolbe's story. How much of what Fr. Kolbe did, is and isn’t like what Jesus did. At The Last Supper, Jesus did not ask if the Disciples were “innocent”. In fact, He pointed out the ones who weren’t! And what makes matters even worse is that these weren’t strangers, these were his friends! He KNEW He was giving up His Life and Himself as Bread to a "Betrayer" and a "Denier". He did not ask if they were “qualified” or were “worthy” to receive His Human/Divine life in place of their flawed sin-forsaken one. He didn’t even tell them to go get "cleaned up", and in right order and then come back and “THEN” He would feed them “Himself” and be their Savior. He didn’t separate and define who He would feed and die for and who he wouldn’t. No. Jesus just knelt down and started washing feet.
In the mist of their mess, in their disorder of righteous self, knowing that these very folks, the one’s right in front of Him, who called themselves His friends would all leave Him (save John), He washed ALL their feet. He fed ALL His Body as Bread –which signified Himself taking their place in Death’s Line of humans it had gathered. Jesus quite understood what He was doing for people who didn’t understand. He knew they needed a Savior. So He ACTED like Himself and knew in the end, this was the greatest way to teach who God IS. He still knows this!
Now this might be extreme, but it is worth pondering. How often do we “starve” people, send them to some “death block” in our hearts because they do not fall in line with protocol, do not profess our “faith”, are not who we say or think they “should be”…so they become undeserving of our time, our funds, our prayers, our hope and good wishes, OUR GOD! Instead with all kinds of self “justifications, ” we put them in some cell of our dark self, and will not “feed” them the very things that give US life… This is what fascinates me about Jesus and Fr.Kolbe-neither put conditions on their Love, on their ACTions. They just were LOVE IN ACTION reacting to what love does, not what evil does..
Fr. Kolbe’s life and death also reminds me that Fr. Kolbe understood that God,-Jesus did not ration Himself. Are there not times perhaps when it is easier to give someone “part” of Jesus, wanting them to do “xyz” before they get the rest of Jesus? But Jesus is always fully Himself…. My ability to let Him be or want Him to be Himself with another, says more about me than the one I am trying to ration God to. Is there a way to fully acknowledge that someone deserves the full Presence of God without my trying to hinder it, not because they are worthy of it (for nor am I!) but because God, Himself has made Himeself Present on earth for this very reason! Of course, each relationship with God delvelops, grows and deepens but God is not less present at any of our stages of growth..So the question is, do I do anything that tries to "regulate" God from acting like God with another human being until they meet some demand or formula that I have established to earn God's Love?
Jesus, did not withhold His Perfect Divinity and gave it to us through His sacred Humanity, that we might partake in it, be Saved by it and know how much we NEED His Love ALWAYS – in ALL our brokenness and disorder God is our only hope. And Fr. Kolbe, knowing His Savior Jesus and how he was Loved by Him, lived out the thing Jesus asked of His Disciples (even the screwed up, messed up, slow learning ones who later in life understood!) “Love one another as I have Loved you!”.
Sometimes around the HoH we deal with really tough and hard situations that involve systemic issues of poverty, the effects of drugs or other ugly things my heart deems as crimes against humanity. Situations that can sometimes make me want to hang up my hat, or determine that this person is “unqualified”, “disordered”, dang, outright messed up….and I begin to see myself laying brick for that “Death Cell” where I feel I can justify withholding the actions of my God, His Mercy….all the very things that got me God when I needed a Savior, and looking at my messy mortar job, that attest that I will ALWAYS NEED a Savior…. I think of my friend and fellow Catholic Worker, Nic.
Nic and I take turns saying to each other, “ The only one that doesn’t want someone to have God is the devil. Think about it, it’s true” God gave Himself to everybody. Will I let Him do that and more will I tell the truth about it..God is for me as much as He is for another. Some days it is easier to look at one side of the coin than the other, but the Truth is the value is in the whole coin, not just one side.
We can’t earn God’s Love, whether it comes from a direct experience or through one of His conduits-Disciples. It is a Gift that is given and True Love brings Life and want healthiness for us. It does not say “get healthy” and then I will “feed” you the Life and Healthiness of The Love of God that I, myself need to be healthy. No, it says, while I cannot or do not want to participate in what is unhealthy, I will continue to hold out what is Life and Health and what is the merciful Love God. Sometimes, that can mean washing a betrayers or deniers feet, sometimes that means showing a Nazi guard what Heaven’s Love does to death, sometimes that means dismantling one’s own judgment and putting on Christ’s.
~ Peace and Always,
*Fr. Kolbe, went to the “Death Block”, and it is recorded that over the course of two weeks he led the men in song and prayer. As one after the other died Fr. Kolbe stayed by their side, reminding them that soon they would be free and death could not hold them but God’s Love would. After every last man had passed on, except Fr. Kolbe, an executioner was sent in to give him a lethal injection. Fr. Kolbe, just smiled and prayed as the executioner injected the poison in his arm. He knew he was going to Heaven, where Jesus would gather all in Life and there would be no more destruction.
* The Auschwitz Camp had a revival in Spirit and the legacy of Fr. Kolbe lives to this day. The Jewish man whose life was spared spent the rest of his life telling the story of the Catholic Priest who saved his life.
* In October of 1982 with the opening papal decree "Greater love hath no man than this ..." by Polish Pope John Paul II , Maximum Kolbe was canonized as a Saint and his life story was given to the Church as an example to learn from.
*Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matthew 5:7
|Posted on August 15, 2015 at 11:50 PM||comments (42)|
As we celebrate the Feast of Assumption of our Jesus’s Mother, our Mother, into Heaven and pray to be filled with her faith and love for God, we also hold our hearts up to Heaven in Thanksgiving as we celebrate that it has been a year since we signed the papers to buy the East Wheeling HoH house. How long the search for the right house seemed and what miracles occurred in the process! And how much has happened in this first year!
It has not just been a year of major renovations of the house but also of our hearts. I don’t think even a novel could encapsulate a glimmer of all that has happed here this year though. What started as a dream and a Calling into a Ministry has turned into a Family. I remember wondering how we would invite or let people know about the HoH Catholic Worker, and wondering if anyone would come when we had our first Open House. We never adverstised. We prayed for friends. And besides for a few Facebook post, we did nothing but watch God Work.
Our first holiday was Thanksgiving and we witnessed the house fill up with neighbors, those that live in houses and those that lived in tents, shelters or doorways, college students, Catholics and many other denominations of Christian’s hearing Jesus’s Call to live out His Love in the world coming together to gather around a table in true Thanksgiving. God drew us together. Friends! A Spirit greater than any ad or Facebook post reached into our hearts and in Him we found our Beginning.
And we have been an Open House every Sunday since because of so many open hearts and prayers. Your open hearts! We have been a place to gather for the warmth of each other and a community meal, Prayer, art and more- when there are no other warm places to go and when the soup kitchens are closed on Sundays-It has become the day to grow as a family. Your open hearts have provided toiletries, laundry soap, clothes for those in need of showers, clean clothes and shoes. Others have generously contributed, while others give the gift of their precious time. There is no way for my heart to express the gratitude it holds for each one of you and I could tell you story after story of lives that have been effected by your Love. By YOU being a conduit of God, YOU have given so many HOPE! There are times I literally sit weeping unable to explain the honor it is to witness such love! Please know you all are in my prayers daily!
But it is far more than warmth or air condition on a hot day, more than clothes and showers, food in a hungry belly, it is the fellowship of being part of a Family. We have heard more times than we can count from our homeless friends who can’t believe they are welcome in a house, that they are not "homeless" when they come here. I am not sure how we have come to a place where a whole cross section of our society doesn’t think they are wanted in a Home…but here they know that is not true and more, this is not true because God wants them in His Home. …You have helped us open the door to invite all into God’s Hospitable Love, God’s Family. There are never enough “thank you”s for that!!!
Christmas was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. As we gathered in the precious Gift of Jesus, our tree shone not only with lights but was covered in prayer tags that people had added over Advent along with "Call to Prayer" bells that were like the one we keep in the Chapel. It is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen.We all have the Gift of Prayer to give! And so we did. There was a small gift under the tree for everyone. Some started to cry and tell us stories of growing up in the foster system and how this was their first family Christmas with a tree, meal and gift. It was a Christmas where it felt like Jesus's manager had the the shelter of our hearts.
Days go by quickly here and there is always something going on. Sometimes it is someone that needs help or just an ear that will listen. Sometimes we have been able to facilitate and walk with those successfully recovering from drugs, helping them get jobs, housing and their identity and purpose back. We have cried, prayed and finally celebrated on the day when we have been able to help those living in tents move into apartments and celebrated with them as each piece of furniture or appliance was found for it. We keep praying and working for those who still need them. I do not have words to explain the lump in my throat and the sacred honor I feel when someone trust us enough to ask us to help them with paper work because they quietly tell us they don’t know their “letters”. We have been able to drive folks to Moundsville to get “Id’s” so they can get jobs. And we are in the process of setting up the HoH BikeShare so folks without transportation can borrow a bike! Also, and again through many folks kind donations, we are also in the process of setting up a free Art Studio. One thing we quickly learned, is there is not much to do when one is homeless and just sitting and waiting on the “system” is not good for the soul. We are hoping eventually this will provide a venue for folks to be able to create a product for a little additional income as well as give their Soul a place to express itself. We have begun a garden as well! In the ache of hardships and life situations I still can't believe are happening here in America, beautiful is blooming.
God asked Hagar in the desert, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Days can go by fast here and be filled with events that seem like mountains before us, but God keeps making a way. And we keep learning, learning that “Giving Drink to the Thirsty” can mean letting our neighbor without utilities fill their water jugs, but it can also mean giving someone a popsicle and a smile. This year we have entered into a Vision and are living in a Reality where God "Sees" us, guides us; grows us. We move from one miracle to another, learning that we too are in fact miracles…. at the end of the day, we find we have gained a greater understanding of Love…the giving, hard, sweaty, doing, being, verb of Love..where we have stepped a little deeper into understanding God’s Heart and who we are in Him <3 God Bless each one of you!