20 June 2011
12th Week of Ordinary Time
A project of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden, NJ,
De Sales Service Works welcomes volunteers to join
in service, prayer and learning in our struggling neighborhood.
- Service Word
- Last Week in Camden
- Upcoming Events
1. Service Word Exodus 34:4b-9
Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, “Lord.” Thus the Lord passed before him, and he cried out, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship. Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.”
Almost always when talking about Camden with volunteers, group leaders, or with anyone who does not live in the city, the issue of safety comes up. This is natural since for decades Camden continually has been ranked among the most poor and most violent U.S. cities.
My standard answer comes from our experience here. “This is not a safe neighborhood,” I say, “but we are safe, because people know who we are.” People here have a respect for service and religion—especially connected to this Catholic parish, which has been in the neighborhood through thick and thin, doing good works and simply being here for those in need.
The cloud with Moses and the people in the desert offers a rich symbol of how we might experience God. In one sense, God is beyond us, clouded in mystery deeper than our comprehension. So Moses naturally bows down to the ground overwhelmed in the presence of the infinite, all-good Creator. But at the same time, like the cloud, God is also visibly present. In fact all the words describing the Lord: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity, describe a relationship “for the long-haul.” Moses feels able to invite the Lord to “come along in our company,” but God is already out ahead, eternally committed and always faithful.
That faithfulness is so important. Even thought the Oblates and DeSales Service Works have only been here since August 6, 2008, we are all part of that fidelity that reflects God’s absolute commitment to his children. The Oblates, the parish, and you all who come to serve here act as a sacrament of the faithfulness of God—even and especially in this extreme environment.
-What sort of experiences bring you to your knees like Moses in the presence of the Creator?
-How are you able to feel a part of the good the Church accomplishes—even in this time when the failures of many of our leaders is so clear?
-How do you feel when you think about how God is faithful to all of us—and to you in particular—always and everywhere?
2. Last Week in Camden
Recently Camden has made it into the media again for negative things. Early Sunday morning another large, closed factory building went up in flames. This made three multi-alarm fires in three weeks. There is no word about whether these blazes are connected, but it does seem strange. Naturally, January’s layoff of one third of Camden’s fire fighters complicated fighting the fires. So did vandalized fire hydrants, missing brass fixtures taken for scrap metal. News reports made it sound like the whole city is coming down and filled with smoke. That was not the case. But the reality is bad enough, and the last thing we need is more burned-out buildings and displaced neighbors.
Sister Claire Sullivan, IHM, began home visits in the neighborhood—her annual summer project. Last week a regional superior and another sister joined a team of parishioners doing the visiting.
3. Upcoming Events
This week all Oblates on the East Coast gather at De Sales University for five days of meetings, prayer, and community. Wednesday I will have the opportunity to present about DSW, since it is a project sponsored and supported by the congregation.
One highlight of the gathering will be Oblate Michael Vogt making perpetual vows as a member of the community. Mike assisted with many Salesianum service retreats this spring. Congratulations!
Read past essays from the Peace & Justice Blog. There are some good reflections.
Have a great week!
Mike McCue, OSFS