Saturday, June 26, 2010

Two-For-One Deal and Father Smith's Homily

You could have heard my heart drop to my stomach when Erin brought to my attention that I had accidentally scheduled the Open House for Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) for the same evening as our first celebration of Mass in our chapel.

Some people claim that there are no such things as accidents. In this case, there couldn't have been anything more appropriate than celebrating the Eucharist as a community while steeped in work for social justice. Ours is a two-for-one deal: You come for one and you get the other. The life of prayer and the work for justice are inseparable. We should have planned it this way in the first place!

The fact that this was the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist--himself a victim of capital punishment in a most twisted, political climate of envy and power--was not lost on us.

A couple of events at our house have moved me to tears, and this was one of them. Folks gathered in quiet prayer in the chapel before Mass. The room lifted in song, strong voices. Fr. Jim Smith speaking the words of the Eucharistic Prayer like a poet savoring each morsel that falls from his lips.

The only downside was that the A/C made it difficult to hear during the first part of Mass, until we switched it off. Fortunately, Fr. Smith left us a printed copy of his homily to post online, so that it can be shared widely, including to those of us who didn't catch it all the first time!

Many, many thanks to Kaitlyn, our summer resident, for taking the lead in planning this Mass. Our hope is to host Mass at least once per month with a rotation of priests. She is busy working on that schedule as we speak.

Fr. Jim Smith's profound homily is as follows:

As you know, after such an auspicious Beginning, John Ended in jail. And from his prison he sent messengers to ask Jesus if he were the One. Jesus replied: "Look at the signs of God's Kingdom: the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and the Poor hear the Good News."

Those may have been sufficient signs for John but you and I need more assurance. For us, signs of God's presence are health, wealth & success. Marginal people may evoke our pity; or arouse our anxiety about how vulnerable we Also are. But they do not remind us of God. For us, power & glory stir up inklings of God. So, where IS God?

Liberation Theology thinks that God became human so God could become Poor. Maybe so She could relate to them. Because poverty is un-fake-able. Even God cannot get away with being merely 'poor in spirit' - real poverty has to be experienced. So God became a poor, vulnerable baby human. And that was the Fault Line of human history: the radical, irreducible difference between a Rich God & a Poor God.

But history is written by the Victors: exploits of Kings, cleverness of cardinals. That history values strength, power & success. But what if history were written by Victims? What a different set of values that would extol! Destitute people don't need a million - a dollar will do. Starving people don't demand a banquet - a little rice is fine. Homeless people don't long for a castle - just being out of the cold is a blessing.

And Those are precisely the values which drive you & me back to our basic humanity. That is how poor people force God's presence into a rich world. Because God cannot find a foothold in a Velveeta culture; God cannot leap out of a whipped-cream society. Which means that any time we buy into secular values, whenever we move beyond basic food, shelter & clothing, just then, we pass into the world of the Un-necessary, the Super World. That is when we require Underworld people to shame us back to the basics, the simple necessities.

We must be innocent of Gandhi's Seven Modern Sins: Wealth without work, Business without morality, Pleasure without conscience, Politics without principle, Knowledge without character, Worship without sacrifice. As both ancient John and modern Bonhoeffer learned in prison: "It is not by some religious act that we become Christian, but by participating in the sufferings of God in his world."

We do not have to romanticize poverty - it has an irrefutable power all its own. Nor should we read Scripture in a simplistic, naive way. God does not have to like the Poor - but She is responsible for them. God does not help them because they Deserve it but because they Need it. Someone said that God takes care of the Poor by Default - because no one else does. So, the Kingdom is finally not about rich & poor or good & bad. God's kingdom is about the indigence of us All. In light of which differences of wealth & status are immaterial. Literally, Im-material.

Maybe you have read Flanner O'Connor's vision of the Kingdom: "A vast horde was rumbling toward heaven. White trash clean for the first time, black people in white robes, freaks & lunatics shouting & clapping & leaping like frogs. And bringing up the rear was the tribe of Our Kind of people: who always had a little of everything and the wit to use it right. They were marching with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were singing on key. Yet, one could see by their shocked & altered faces that even their Virtues were being burned away."

Of such as these is the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two Exciting Events! Mass and OTSE Open House

The voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
(John 1:23)


The Holy Mass will be celebrated at the Columbus Catholic Worker chapel next week! Fr. Smith from St. Matthias will be presiding. Please join us on Thursday, June 24th at 5:30 pm.

Join us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. As a community rooted in faith, we know that we will shrivel up and blow away like “dust in the wind” if this branch is not connected to the True Vine. So we come to the well to drink.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit in a while, this is a perfect time to drop in and pray together with us.

Our summer resident Kaitlyn, who is on break from Notre Dame University, is planning this and other events. Stay tuned for more details as others unfold!


Immediately following the Mass, we are hosting an Open House for the group OTSE (Ohioans to Stop Executions). They are working hard to lay the groundwork for possibly a new regional chapter in the Columbus area, and the Columbus Catholic Worker would like to support this effort in any way we can.

From their announcement:

Regional groups across the state are crucial in OTSE's efforts of activating members and potential supporters at the local level. For this reason, we are hosting an open house gathering on June 24th for those interested in meeting our staff and other community members while learning more about Ohio's death penalty and simple ways to help the movement. This is the perfect way for Columbus area supporters to get more involved in the work to stop executions in Ohio.

This will be at 6:30 - 8:00 p.m., with a short presentation at 7:00 p.m. about Ohio's death penalty and recent developments. Please R.S.V.P. by email to or by phone to (614) 560-0654. All are welcome, so please consider bringing a friend.

Folks can attend either the Mass or the OSTE Open House, or both. However, maybe it is not a coincidence that St. John the Baptist was himself a victim of the death penalty, so it is not hard to find a common thread between the two gatherings.

Bread & soup and refreshments will be on hand to share.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Clemency Petition

The following is from Kevin Werner of Ohioans to Stop Executions:

Earlier today, supporters of Ohio death row inmate Kevin Keith (pictured at left), who faces execution on September 15 despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, posted a petition online urging the Ohio Parole Board and Governor Ted Strickland to grant clemency to Kevin.

Kevin Keith has been on death row since 1994. Now, newly discovered evidence points to his innocence of the crime for which he stands to be executed. This evidence has never been presented to a jury.

Kevin's case is so compelling that many prominent groups have filed supporting briefs on his behalf, including the National Innocence Network, an affiliation of over 50 innocence projects and legal organizations around the country, the Ohio Innocence Project, an organization that typically only works on non-death penalty cases involving DNA evidence, and a group of leading eyewitness and memory experts.

More information about his case can be found at: Please be sure to take a moment and sign the petition below.

Click here to sign the petition and to learn more about this case.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Day in the Life

People often ask what we do at the Columbus Catholic Worker. In particular, volunteers and new live-in community members can walk around a big, empty house and wonder what all the fuss is about. People may not know how to plug in.

At the risk of coming across as self-indulgent, I decided to document my activities this Monday morning to give a snapshot of what life is like at 1614. This is not a comprehensive list, as other community members are doing other projects as well, but it is just a little slice of what one person is doing on one morning.

* * *

The day begins with morning prayer at 6 am. This is no small feat for a night owl like me, but things seem to fall apart when we aren’t praying consistently, and 6 am is the only time when we are all reliably at the house on a consistent basis. Jeremiah does a nice job leading us in the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel, albeit with the lights on a little too brightly, I might add. I go back to sleep afterwards.

Coffee comes next. It is reassuring to say that coffee does not come first but rather second to prayer!

You never know what tasks are waiting for us on voicemail. Perhaps there is a Spanish-speaker looking for immigration advice, a parish question about grounds keeping or a person inquiring about living in our community. Today, it is a total of three calls from donors looking to drop off clothing for the Free Store. I return the calls and schedule a drop-off time later this afternoon.

I then place a call to a local organizer against the death penalty. Momentum is building against the death penalty, and we are ready and willing to help Central Ohio organize to that end. This Saturday, there is a gathering of Murder Victims Families at our place. Anyone out there who has ever planned anything from a high school graduation party to a social justice action knows all the work that goes into making an event happen—phone calls, transportation, refreshments, materials on hand, audio/visuals, scheduling kitchen duties, clean-up, you name it.

The next phone call is to the Diocese. Our summer resident Kaitlyn is working hard to develop the prayer life of the community. I won’t give away any secrets as to what plans are in the works, she’ll unveil those when the time comes! For now it is enough to say we have scheduled a time to meet folks from the downtown office to share ideas and coordinate activities.

Compost has been building up, so I consolidate our containers of food waste into one 5-gallon bucket, ready for a trip out to the garden later this afternoon. Recyclables are also gathered and put on the stoop, to be loaded into a car and taken to a local dumping station (Columbus has dozens all over the city, mostly at schools and fire departments).

The rains have interrupted our community garden workdays recently, especially the monsoon that hit last Wednesday evening. Our radishes are a bit past their prime and spinach and lettuce are quickly growing and need to be picked right away. If I get my act together, I can have some packets of salad ready to be given out at the Food Pantry tonight.

Speaking of the Food Pantry, an unexpected visitor came to the door. A young man said his neighborhood just had their yearly barbecue, and this time they added an extra twist: Attendees were to bring non-perishable food items to be donated. He brought several wonderful bags of items to give away. Pat was downstairs stocking shelves, so she and I gave him a tour of the Pantry.

We just got a new phone plan, as our previous provider jacked up our rates. Our old computer is not recognizing the new internet connection, so some troubleshooting is required. Like any business or home, there is no shortage of the day-to-day business concerns, such as working with utilities providers, plumbing problems, lawn care, shrubbery trimming, computers, etc.

The next conversation is with the maintenance man at the parish. We had some flooding in the basement last week. While the Food Pantry generously had the entire basement reconfigured to handle water drainage, there was so much rain last week that the windows themselves were holding back (unsuccessfully) literally gallons of water. I sought advice on how to best clean out the catch basins, as small trees have been sprouting out of them lately. I’ll be dredging them out this afternoon.

Creative juices seems to flow best somewhere between coffee and breakfast, so I am writing this blog post as well as another this morning. The blog is a great way to share reflections and to be a tool to promote issues and advertise events.

Later in the day I’ll do some light cleaning and make coffee for the ESL class & planning group tonight. Erin and Kaitlyn have been recording educational songs for ESL, and Linda, Vielka and Fran has been gathering real-world documents such as job applications to use for classes.

* * *

Admittedly, much of the daytime work above is administrative blah-blah and probably not too exciting. However, the nuts & bolts of the operation make it possible for the other things happen. The community really comes alive in the evenings and weekends as folks gather to directly do the ministries themselves. During the day, it can be quiet but with still lots of planning and preparing, and it is easy to be too busy.

Where else can you spend your days in such a rich environment of service? Picking fresh produce for the Food Pantry, gathering clothing for the poor, planning a social justice event against the death penalty and sharing theological reflections on the blog in the span of just a few hours! I also should mention how good it feels to begin the day in community prayer.

Every day is different. Just to give an example of how different, we had a Fair Trade coffee event after Mass at St. Anthony parish yesterday followed by a community meal & meeting in the evening. On Saturday we organized a new Reading Room and reconfigured the Office at the house. Erin’s group is working on the ESL curriculum and Joan has plans for the Garden and Free Store. Each of them has a story to tell as well.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring!