Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prayerful Discernment

The Columbus Catholic Worker is in a period of deep discernment right now. At our last open community meeting, we felt great relief in the decision to throw ourselves into prayer. It was the one light in what has been otherwise a sea of grey murkiness. We couldn’t see the path, but we knew our next step.

In light of this:

Please join us at 9 am on Saturday morning this week (Nov 28) for a time of community prayer.

We are quite pleased to welcome our friend Tom, who will be leading us in a meditation on the Lord's Prayer. Tom is a beloved member of St. Joseph's Catholic Worker House in Rochester, NY (the Rochester CW began in 1935 and was one of the first branches of the movement).

The main theme of this prayer is discernment. Before we can negotiate with the Church the new terms of our lease, we must first come to a decision as a community about who we are and what we are all about. What are the non-negotiables? Must we do overnight hospitality or can we fulfill our mission by providing the many and varied programs that we currently have? Are we willing to become a 501C3 nonprofit in order to do this?

The Catholic Worker movement is known for its adaptability to circumstances. This has been a building year for the community, and we were willing to try new things as we stretched out and formed ourselves as a community. Now that we have a foundation, we can reach for the stars. But what stars do we want to reach for?

We plan to hold our own prayer times, put together a prayer schedule, as well as encourage everyone to participate in the ongoing prayer life of the Church at Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or any other Church service. We welcome everyone to join us in this! At Saturday's prayer, we hope to develop a schedule and ask people to join us at various times of the day for prayer--you could join us in person or from your own home.

Our group began with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and we hope and trust that we will continue to see where the hand of God may be leading us.

ALSO: The next Open Community Meeting will be Sunday, December 13th at 4:00 pm. We will continue our discussion of our present and future discernment. In particular, we will be looking at whether becoming a 501C3 non-profit makes sense.

We are reserving the 2nd Sunday of each month for the meetings. Your presence, prayer and presents are very much needed!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Many people often find themselves in heated discussions over panhandling. Some give, others refuse. Some give food, but never money. Some recommend giving out cards with contact info for the nearest social services instead of cash. Many don't know what to do. Each stance can be very principled.

There are no easy answers to panhandling. This is why the Catholic Worker movement has always stressed the importance of personal involvement with the poor. You just can't know what the "right thing" to do is unless you walk a few miles with the people you are helping, and even then the decisions are often difficult. Your spare change could buy someone a crack fix. Your spare change could also save someone's life with emergency food or medicine. There is no way to know for sure. There is no blanket solution that serves every person equally, as much as we might like one.

I tend not to support panhandling. I rarely carry cash, so that makes the decision easy. I would rather address poverty systematically rather than in some random way, but I don't pretend to know if that's the right decision or not.

An interpretation of "Lazarus and the Rich Man" from Luke's gospel.

However, I have to admit that in some ways I like panhandling, even though I would never wish that anyone had to do it. It does get people talking. It forces us to think about an issue that we'd all rather forget about. It is poverty getting right up in your face. If the panhandlers would keep to themselves and only ask for their needs at established agencies and shelters, most of the general public would never have to engage with them or ask themselves these tough questions.

The truth is that there are poor people out there every day, even if they do not make an effort to approach anyone. Yet, it seems much more real when it is up close and personal. We feel guilty if we turn away a panhandler--and it can really ruin a night out on the town. But the truth is that we turn away poor people every single day. The fact that there are some days when people do not ask us directly face-to-face does not change the fact that we know they are out there and that they need help.

Why should be wait until someone randomly finds us on the street and asks us for help? That's not a very strategic way of addressing poverty.

It is interesting that we feel a moral obligation to do something when asked directly, but often don't feel it otherwise. It seems to be part of the human condition. It is the same condition that allows us to be mortified at the picture of a single wounded person but take little interest in lists of bombing casualties of war victims we never see. We must always strive to stay personally involved because of this inherent tendency in the human condition--out of sight very often makes something out of mind, and, apparently, out of reach of our heart, too.

I've ever heard some people say they would like to see the soup kitchens and shelters closed down, bringing masses of people out into the streets begging from anyone they could find. This would force society as a whole to do some serious thinking about poverty. While I can understand the logic, I would never advocate for the poor to be used as pawns like that.

The Catholic Worker has always advocated for giving direct food, clothing and shelter to those who need it, even if that means we run the risk of being a "band aid" by cleaning up the mess that our unjust society has created. Out of mercy for the poor, we must help them--a hungry person needs food right away, and he can't wait for society to change to get it.

But we also work for long term, systemic change. We must ask the question, "Why are they poor in the first place?" Being approached by a panhandler on the street can be a big wake-up call, but we don't need to wait for panhandlers to approach us. For every panhandler there are dozens more who suffer in silence, never asking for help. Or maybe they just aren't able to find you. What are we doing about poverty every day?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SOA Talk at Pax Christi Tonight

Don't forget to join us tonight at the Pax Christi meeting at 7pm. Jim Hodge and Linda Cooper will be speaking on their ongoing work on the School of the Americas (SOA). This is a timely topic, as this weekend marks the annual protest at the gates of Fr. Benning, GA. For those who can't be there in person, this is a way to still be in solidarity. Recent political upheaval in Honduras is also linked to the School of the Americas.

Jim and Linda are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas. They have written prolifically about this topic in the National Catholic Reporter, as well.

This is also a very important topic as the new Pax Christi group discerns its own areas of focus. The SOA relates to injustice not only in Latin America, but it is also a lens through which we can see how America uses its political and military power in other parts of the world.

The talk will be at the Catholic Worker House, 1614 Oakland Park Avenue. See contact info on the right for more info.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Blessed are the Peacemakers--Nonviolence Training Retreat

For the Lord says, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Now a peacemaker is one who gives peace to another. But we cannot give another what we do not possess ourselves. Thus the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessings of peace, and then to communicate it to those in need of peace.

-St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon 7 on the Beatitudes

With this in mind, the Columbus Catholic Worker--in partnership with the newly formed chapter of Pax Christi--are hosting an all-day Nonviolence Training workshop. In order to be peacemakers, we must first cultivate peace on all levels of our being.

Facilitators from the Michigan Peace Team will be leading us from 9am until 5pm on Saturday, December 12th. Please RSVP to the contact info on the right hand side if you would like to attend! Lunch will be served. There is no cost, but donations are always welcome.

The training itself will cover a lot of ground, including these topics, taken from their website:

  • Experience the transforming power of nonviolence for oneself and society;

  • Learn about and practice skills for nonviolent peacemaking;

  • Learn of domestic & international violence reduction peacemaking efforts and opportunities for volunteering on projects;

  • Experience working together with others as a peace team.

They train groups from everything from nonviolent communication and consensus-building strategies for families and neighborhoods all the way to preparing groups for protests, acts of civil disobedience and for people who go off into war-torn parts of the world to be peacemakers.

Topics include working with hate groups, racial injustice, mechanisms for social change, nonviolent communication, etc. This training that we are having will not have a specific focus, so any and all topics can be covered. It is a great training for any people working for social change.

Please check the link above for other exciting components of the training, too numerous to mention here!

The Holy Trinity is peace itself. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons who are together as one Triune God. They are the living example of peace since they are diversity of persons united in perfect harmony. So indeed, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And why is this? As this website says: "By imitating God's love of man, the peacemakers become children of God."

Take it away, St. Gregory of Nyssa:

Those who imitate God's love for human beings show forth in their own life the characteristics of the Divine Life. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you: to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within the resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart.

Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit, by charity, joy, peace, goodness, generosity, and all the good things enumerated by Paul.

How, then, should we not be blessed, when we act as dispensers of the Divine gifts, since we imitate the gifts of God and model our own good deeds on the Divine munificence?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wealth, Poverty and St. John Chrysostom

A hard truth for us to realize--especially Americans--is that wealth for one person generally comes at the expense of someone else.

I find it particularly hard to justify doing much of anything when 1 billion people are starving to death at any given moment in time. There is a real cost to living in a continual state of accumulating and consuming--excess resources are coming my way for some small luxuries when they could--and should--be going to someone else to keep them alive. I think of this with every decadent hot chocolate with whipped cream I indulge myself in at the local coffee shop, while typing this on my laptop.

However, intentional poverty is a tough go, and I have barely taken steps in that direction. I am choosing not to burden myself with guilt over it, but to slowly relax my way out of the entanglement with materialism and my inevitable complicity in the violence of the world that comes with it. I've been immersed in this system all my life, it will take a while to wind my way out of it.

Intentional poverty is beautiful as a means of spiritual solidarity with the poor. It also has a very practical side of simply breaking the cycle of consumerism and exploitation. There comes a time when a person simply cannot stand to participate in the madness any longer.

I lean on the words of St. John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church. It is easier to see these dynamics of wealth and poverty with our modern knowledge about the socio-economic systems in which we live, but in the latter half of the fourth century, St. John saw this just as clearly:

"In order that you may wear one pearl drop, countless poor people are suffering from hunger. What excuse do you make for this?"

"Do you wish to adorn your face? Do so not with pearls, but with modesty, and dignity."

"Take off all ornament and place it in the hands of Christ through the poor."

The idea that our possessions are on loan from God is a strong theme in St. John Chrysostom, as well as in other Early Church Fathers. We are merely stewards of Creation, and it is our job to make sure it gets to those who need it. Many people look to Native American spirituality for these ideas, but there is also a strong tradition right in the theology of the Early Church Fathers:

"Our money is the Lord's, however we may have gathered it . . . this is why God has allowed you to have more: not to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need."

"Not to share our wealth is to steal from the poor, and to deprive them of their means of life. We do not possess our own wealth but theirs."