Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fr. John Dear and Grace

Fr. John Dear gave the Ohio Dominican University crowd a very wonderful presentation tonight! He talked about his conversion into a peacemaker while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. He described Jesus as the Incarnation of the God of Peace and asked us to consider the implications this has for our lives. He repeatedly mentioned the great peacemakers of our time: Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, and the father of modern peacemaking: Mahatmas Gandhi.

There was a brief session of questions and comments at the end. Time was limited, but Fr. John seemed willing to push it and entertain a few more questions than the allotted time. Just before he was about to call it quits, he allowed one more comment. Our friend Grace stood up and announced to the whole room the formation of the local Pax Christi chapter and our initial meeting coming up at 7pm on October 21st, here at the Catholic Worker house. She also invited John to attend!

Fr. John was glad to hear this and announced that membership in Pax Christi is a "no brainer." He said that it should be the first step any Catholic makes on the road to peacemaking, being a worldwide organization that bears the official support of the institutional Catholic Church. He encouraged us all to join Pax Christi and we were thrilled to hear his support.

It was then that the light bulb went off in my head, and I could have kicked myself. We were sitting on probably the most sympathetic assembly for peacemaking in Central Ohio and didn't even think to have a stack of fliers handy--a nearly blown opportunity, if it weren't for Grace. It is a good thing we do this in community and can cover each other!

I realized then that I have been spending way too much time in administrative muck and mire. My days have been a stream of phone calls and emails--insurance concerns, house cleaning rigmarole, negotiating with plumbers and arranging an almost endless run of meetings on this and that. I've taken my eye off the mission.

Peter Maurin assured Dorothy Day that if you look at the lives of the saints, you will see that when they did the work of the Lord, that the finances and everything else followed. Perhaps it is time to trust the Lord and put my energies back to direct ministry and let the Lord handle the bookkeeping.

Thank God for Grace--ha!

I encourage everyone to check out Fr. John's blog on the National Catholic Reporter or his website, which contains many of his writings and speeches.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Billion

You may have heard that one billion people are literally starving to death right at this moment. That is one in six people on the planet. The U.N. announced this statistic recently. The link is to an article by Fr. John Dear, who is coming to speak at ODU tomorrow.

We have all known for decades the enormity of global poverty, disease and hunger. As theologian Sallie McFague points out, that knowledge practically defines our modern era. Never before have people lived their entire lives knowing that an enormous amount of people are not just suffering, but actually starving to death. Even if you don't actively think about it, it is always there in the back of your consciousness.

People growing up in isolated villages in the Middle Ages, for example, knew their own suffering but had no idea what it was like on a global scale. If all was well in their village, they could rest knowing that had done their share. We never get that rest. Their saints were theologians. Our saints are humanitarians.

One of the things I remember the most from my childhood are those statistics that relief agencies spout out about how many tens of thousands of people die each minute, each second, each day. They haunted me then, they haunt me now.

We live in the Age of Information, and the information is grim. We don't talk about it much, but to think that it doesn't somehow affect us, that this information doesn't eat away at us and keep us awake at night, that is doesn't sit in our cells and cause cancers in our bodies, is probably mistaken. Jesus reminds us that we are one family on earth. If you stub your toe, the whole body aches, no matter how good your distractions are.

I see one billion people starving everywhere. It is changing the way I look at everything:

When I see people spending thousands of dollars redecorating their home and buying antiques, all I see are one billion people starving.

When I see people playing basketball in the park, I see one billion starving.

And yes, even when many beautiful things happen through the ministries of The Catholic Worker, I see one billion people starving. While there is no way to know exactly how God works, there are many times when I lie awake at night and realize that no one's going to live or die based on our ministries. God does work in mysterious ways, and it is possible that someone we help nurture through a retreat, or give food to through our pantry or teach in our ESL will somehow take that seed and sprout it into all sorts of good humanitarian work. But why must we hope for the Hail Mary pass, so to speak?

How can any of us justify doing any of the above activities knowing that one billion people are literally starving to death? I'm not trying to lay down a guilt trip on anyone, this is just a purely matter of fact, logical question. I don't understand why everyone on earth doesn't just stop what we are doing and attend to this like NOW. Maybe the collective shock of this information hasn't really hit home, yet.

If your mother were literally starving to death, you wouldn't go on retreat to "discern" whether you were "called" to help her. You wouldn't sip coffee with your pinky in the air and talk about it over polite banter with your friends. You would move hell and earth to get to her. You would break every speed limit to get to her in time. Jesus tells us to think of all human beings in the same way we regard our own flesh and blood family members and to have that same instinctive response to intervene when they are suffering.

I'm not suggesting that we give up all entertainment. I'm not saying we should give up helping others in our locale. I'm not suggesting we give up school or work or anything. I am not suggest we curl up in a ball immobilized by the enormity of the problem. But I am suggesting that maybe those one billion people ought to be the axis around which we orient our lives. We should make our decisions in light of them. What would life look like if we did that?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Peace Wednesdays

The efforts are underway to organize a new chapter of Pax Christi right here in Columbus, OH! Our second planning meeting is in the books and we have scheduled--and would like to draw attention to--some events around peace & justice coming up in the near future. Events will be here at the Catholic Worker House unless otherwise specified (address on the right).

Check out these Wednesday evening activities here or around town:

September 30, 7:30 pm: Come and hear Fr. John Dear give a presentation at Ohio Domincian University (see post below for details)

October 7, 6:30 pm: The Columbus Catholic Worker is holding an informal discussion on peace and justice on the 5th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan (and also just a few days after Gandhi's birthday: International Day of Nonviolence).

October 14, 7:00 pm: The third planning meeting for the local Pax Christi chapter will be held at the Columbus Catholic Worker, 1614 Oakland Park Avenue. All are welcome, or you can wait for the following week for....

October 21, 7:00 pm: This will be the first ever meeting of the local Pax Christi chapter! All are invited! We will be discerning the direction of our future ministries, getting to know one another, and just generally kicking it off. Plans are also in the works for a full-day nonviolence training retreat, held by the Michigan Peace Team. Updates will be given as they develop!

Hope to see you on these Peace Wednesdays!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The Catholic Worker movement has been a witness to the world in many ways since its founding way back in the depths of the Great Depression, over 80 years ago. One major way it has done this is by showing how to turn your lifestyle into an act of service.

Most good-intentioned Americans find themselves busy and their money spent. Just keeping a roof over their head and feeding their family takes most of their resources. They are lucky to spare a few hours or a few extra dollars at the end of the month towards a charitable cause.

But wouldn't it be amazing if all the time, talent and treasure spent doing these basic life necessities could somehow also be an expression of the Christian vocation to service?

Let's look at it financially. People who live with us in community pay a small rent. For example, a single person who works a full-time job may pay a monthly rent of $300 (we have different rates for single people, married couples and those with children, and we also negotiate based on how much someone works outside of the house). Anyone who has ever had to rent their own apartment, furnish it and pay utilities would know this is a really good deal. We wanted to set the amount high enough so that our bills would be paid and that members would take this commitment seriously, but also low enough to consider the extra hours spent doing ministry work by living here.

Still, even though this is for all practical purposes a very low rent, it adds up to a whopping $3,600 a year! Now, I am not one to begrudge the contributions of anyone, and God knows how much each nickels counts, but only the most generous and wealthy people could imagine handing over that much money to us in a single year. I couldn't have imagined donating that much with my expenses and salary, either, back when I maintained my own apartment just a few short months ago.

By no means am I trying to minimize the contributions of others, as we would not be in operation if it weren't for the dozens of folks who contribute who don't live with us in community. There is always that "invisible" person who also lives here--the combined contributions of outside folks who help us out. Your presence is truly felt and we would have to fold up shop without you.

I'm not suggesting that everyone out there should live in a Catholic Worker house. I do support Dorothy Day's original vision that each parish should have one, which means we need a whole lot more communities like this, but that is neither here nor there. What I am asking is this: Are there ways that you can turn your most basic living tasks and expenses into acts of service?

By living in a center of Christian outreach, we have more resources available to contribute because we simply live here. We'd have to mop and vacuum the floors anyway, why not do it at a center of Christian outreach rather than a private apartment? We'd have to write a check to a landlord or mortgage company anyway, why not write a check to a center of Christian outreach instead? But by no means are these the only ways to turn your lifestyle into service. You all are creative, hard-working people. What are some other options?

Many folks have gardens and fruit trees in your yard. You know how it gets toward the end of the summer when you have more than you can use and there is produce literally rotting on the vines. You already take the time and energy to grow it. One option is to pick it and give it to your local food pantry--or call someone like me who would be happy to do it for you! All the unpicked produce in backyard gardens in this town would probably exceed the storage capacity at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank!

You walk your dog anyway... it probably wouldn't be that much harder to also walk the dog of the little old lady who lives next door to you, and the dogs might love the extra companionship.

You drive your kids to school anyway. Would it be possible to carpool with the struggling single mom whose house you drive by everyday on the way to school?

Most of us have attics and basements full of junk--but your junk could be a treasure to a poor family who could use it.

The possibilities are endless! I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't go out of their way to help others--please do! But we all know how tired and busy we are and what the limitations are. The better strategy would be to find a way to integrate service into what you normally do anyway. Perhaps with a nickel's worth of extra effort you can double your service.

You can set up your lifestyle so that service is easy to do because it falls within the normal infrastructure of your day. This is one of the things that has most impressed me about the Catholic Worker movement. It makes ya think . . .

Some people choose a more dramatic adjustment by changing their occupation or living situation. I would never tell someone not to do that, but keep in mind it is the job of the laity to be a witness to the secular world, according to Vatican II--at work, in your neighborhoods and recreation activities.

Anyone who has ever held a secular job can tell you that the Holy Spirit needs willing hands, feet and hearts in those places more than anywhere! Be a peacemaker among all the petty squabbles and serious backstabbing that you see every day. If you are really passionate about recycling, for example, you might have a bigger impact starting a recycling program at your current job than quitting and working for a small environmental non-profit that is already doing a lot of recycling.

Suggest, coach and teach your business to be mindful of humanitarian causes and the impact of your business on the world and others. Sometimes a quiet voice on the inside of a business can do more than a screaming protest in the streets.

These are all important acts of service, and they can be done within the flow of your current lifestyle!

Pictured above are Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, respectively.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


What are we doing with a mountain of rice, beans, corn tortillas and adobe spice seasoning? It looks like we are getting ready for a Latino party! In a sense, that is true.

Tuesday, September 8th is the first day that our St. Vincent de Paul food pantry will start its bilingual operation. They have asked Firstlink to send around 4 Spanish-speaking families for starters, to see how it goes.

There was a very positive response from the Latino community here at St. James the Less. Fr. Pat got a significant number of volunteers and they are all scheduled to help out each Tuesday evening. There was no hesitation from the Latino community to help.

One goal is to serve the Latino community without reducing the meals served to the English-speaking community. In other words, we are growing and serving more families!

Beverly and I recently visited the food pantry of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the southwest corner of Columbus. In many ways, they are very much like the pantry in our building and it runs pretty much the same. However, we did learn some great tips which made the trip well worth it.

Latinos will certainly eat American food, but there is no reason not to find items that are particularly appealing to them. People often know how to stretch their food dollars better if they eat foods that are familiar to them. However, the Mid-Ohio Food Bank (which is the primary supplier of the food pantries) often does not stock large amounts of dry rice, beans, corn flour, etc. Pantries have to buy them.

The Guadalupe pantry is actually right across the street from a Restaurant Depot--a immense warehouse that supplies food to restaurants. They can get an outrageous deal on bulk items there, such as 50 lbs of rice for $15! What they do is buy the bulk items them repackage them into smaller quantities for individual families. They even have a vacuum sealer that can melt the plastic to fit each package. Is there anyone out here who has one they are willing to part with to a good cause?

Beverly made a generous donation to get us started with the above items. Along with other items that the pantry stocks, we'll be sure that these Latino families also take some some rice, beans, tortillas and the adobe seasoning (the stuff that makes rice turn red that you often get at Mexican restaurants). We'll also make sure we have a generous supply of hot peppers right from the garden! We are also looking for an inexpensive way to get masa corn flour.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hasta Luego, Maestra Naomi!

It is with both sadness as well as glad tidings for her future that we say goodbye to Naomi, our Tuesday English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.

I remember the first day of our ESL program, way back in early April (it seems so long ago now!) Bev and I were getting ready for the assessment sessions, and the mother-daughter team of Ruth and Naomi came to help out. I was nervous when the students first arrived, not sure how this would all work. There was an awkward silence as students walked in, and there was a moment when I worried if this would come together at all! Ruth and Naomi jumped in and starting talking and laughing with the students and got the ball rolling, and it has been rolling ever since.

A lot has happened in the last few months. Naomi started off helping out as a tutor. Bev would teach for the first 20-40 minutes of class, and then the class would break up as students paired up with tutors to drill what they had just learned.

It wasn't long before Naomi started researching more about ESL. She attended training sessions at the Dominican Learning Center. She started scheduling time with students for private, one-on-one sessions. Eventually, she began teaching segments of classes, and it certainly wasn't long before she was teaching the Tuesday night beginner's ESL class faithfully.

It has been a true joy to watch her grow in her love for ESL. It is quite clear that she really cares for the students, and she also has a lot of talent for ESL. So then why is she leaving, you may ask?

As a matter of fact, she is leaving in order to study ESL more formally at a school in Oaxaca, Mexico. She'll be there for a month, and then she will look for opportunities to teach ESL in Mexico for a longer period of time. That would be a great chance not only to develop as an ESL teacher, but also to grow in her Spanish skills, which are already quite good.

We are sorry to see her go but glad that she is pursuing this. We are honored that she was able to discover this passion and was willing to nurture and share it while working with us.

We celebrated with cake as well as some recently-made salsa (which, by the way, got some thumbs up from the Latino students!)

Pictured above is Naomi on her last day, Bev is in the background.

We wish you the best, Naomi! Good luck in your studies and upcoming adventures!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Salsa Picante!

Erin is proudly showing off a batch of just-finished jars of salsa!

Suzanne and Joan (L to R) are busy peeling tomatoes!

It is with no small joy to report the progress of the canning session at the house this past Sunday.

We had hauled out of the garden three boxes of tomatoes, a plethora of green peppers (many donated by my parents), and an assortment of hot peppers. It was time to make SALSA! Melissa came over to instruct a bunch of us how to make homemade salsa and then preserve it in jars for the upcoming months.

We worked hard all afternoon, each person assigned to a different vegetable: Joan and Suzanne cut and peeled tomatoes. Quinn was in charge of garlic. Kye worked on onions until it became tearfully apparent that Erin needed to take over. Alea chopped up green peppers; Pat chopped up cilantro. Melissa coached and mixed. We all taste tested.

Yours truly got assigned to cutting up hot peppers. I did so without gloves and paid the price three hours later when my fingers started to burn painfully (NOTE: Making a paste out of baking soda and water and leaving it on my fingers took the pain away--washing it off and repeating a few times helped as well).

Melissa shows Alea the finer points of chopping peppers.

The flavor was outstanding. All the work was worth it just to be a taste tester! We finished with a couple dozen jars of salsa. Folks took some home but the majority is here at the house. If you visit the house for an event in the months to come, you just might share in this delight.

Food preservation is an important ministry: It is a natural extension of our garden. It is an aspect of environmental sustainability to foster locally grown foods. It builds community. It preserves traditional ways of life that have been so quickly lost in the modern area--neighbors talking the kitchen while canning vegetables is something that would have been common just a generation ago. It is good and natural and right.

Quinn is deep in thought while peeling garlic. No risk of vampires or ghosts today!

Even more apropos is that these classes by themselves are already evidence of the fruit of community building--we met the teacher Melissa as folks from the neighborhood formed friendships in an around the community garden!

Now that we know we "can" preserve vegetables, we will keep that in mind as we select crops to plant in the garden and adjust the timing of their planting so they are ready at appropriate times. Filling our pantry full of jars of homemade salsa, sauerkraut, pickles and just plain ole tomatoes is something to look forward to!

Many thanks to Joan, who worked for several days organizing and cleaning the jars, to Erin, who provided the extra ingredients and helped with organization, and of course, to Melissa, whose unbelievable talent as a teacher as well as her knowledge of food preservation and willingness to share have really astounded us all.
Thanks also to the folks from St. James the Less, the Newman Center and other individuals who donated their old jars and canning supplies!

Now one burning question remains: Will the Latinos think our salsa is hot enough?

Kye asks, "Want an onion?"