1 July 2013
Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
A project of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden, NJ,
DeSales 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 Letter to the Galatians 6
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.
Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule
and to the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make troubles for me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
For St. Paul life (that is to say: God at work and Paul paying attention and cooperating) has taught him wise priorities. All accomplishment, status, sin, failure, possessions, and regard—means nothing when compared to what comes to all of us in Jesus. All he wants to be known for is his embrace of the Lord and that he follows the way Jesus went.
The apostle sees everything with the eyes of Christ, and knows what has real value. He can see his neighbor the way God does, below the surface level.
Alex Meier’s reflection below illustrates her coming to see more clearly—an experience many people have living, praying, and working among our neighbors. Her blog, “TheCamden5” focuses on the power of the five senses to enable humans to connect with the world around us. We offer it below as this week’s reflection.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME SO WE SEE by Alex Meier
Posted on June 19, 2013 New Visions Homeless Day Shelter- Downtown
The other week, as the result of a chance encounter and bit of serendipity, I saw how easily people tend to trust their eyes blindly. Bright and early on a Tuesday morning, a group of us from DeSales Service Works visited New Visions, a homeless shelter with a name so coincidently appropriate for TheCamden5 that it sounds like I made it up.
After we helped serve breakfast, the organizers encouraged us to talk with the patrons in the common room. I scanned the tables scattered with men and women, blacks and whites—some staring blankly at the TV, some staring blankly into nothing.
Perhaps my early morning grogginess casted a pessimistic shadow over my head, because at that moment, New Visions Homeless Day Shelter was the last place I wanted to be. The sight of torn clothes, scabbed skin, and calloused hands seemed utterly unwelcoming and alien.
I didn’t believe I had the energy to attempt to relate to these people. But afraid of looking ridiculously uncomfortable, I joined two other volunteers who were listening attentively to a man flailing his arms.
The man, sporting a cloud-white beard that contrasted his dark skin, introduced himself and asked each of us for our names.
“Meg,” said the girl on the right. “Kelly,” said the girl in the center.
“And mine?” he requested, looking directly at Kelly.
She paused. Uh-oh. “I’m really bad with names. It happens all the time. Please, don’t take it personally.”
He tsk’ed and shook his head. “No, no, no! Never, ever, say you’re bad with names. That’s giving yourself an excuse.” He frowned. “It’s Clifton, by the way.”
“No one’s actually bad with names,” Clifton explained. “The problem is—people just forget how to use their five senses properly.” (At that moment, my ears perked up).
“For example, when you hear the word ‘tree’, what does your brain do?” he asked. “It doesn’t spell out the word ‘tree’, the letters that indicate the way ‘tree’ exists as a sound. No. You see big, tall, green, brown. You see bark, leaves, maybe some apples or pears. You see ‘tree.’”
We gleamed, perhaps out of surprise. (I learned about the same concept in linguistic anthropology last semester. How did he know that?)
“Look,” he instructed, as he drew a stick figure standing on the end of a cliff. “I give this to people when they ask me for their number. Then they never forget my name.”
“Think about it,” he continued. “Let’s say you’re driving your car, blasting music. You’re going to a party at a house you’ve never visited before. When it’s time to look for the house number, without thinking about it, you turn down the volume on the radio! Now why’s that?”
He grinned at us impishly, knowing we didn’t have the answer.
“Your brain wants to shift its activity from the region of your brain that processes sound to the one that processes sight,” he pointed out. “The same goes for when you lean in to kiss someone. Your eyes instinctively close so you can focus on feeling the other person’s lips. You know, each of the five senses give us a unique method for interpreting our surroundings, but sometimes, we forget how to use them.”
Clifton’s insight reaffirmed my purpose for creating TheCamden5. Too often we believe we understand our world by looking at its surface. But life is multifaceted, calling for our eyes, ears, tongues, fingers, and nose to peel open each sticky layer.
If we turn down the volume of the rumors, we can see the faces of the homeless, the poor, the marginalized. If we cover our eyes from the gaps in their teeth, dirt on their faces, and holes in their arms, we can focus on feeling their struggles, their pain, their stories.
Just as Clifton began segueing into another lesson about the inner-workings of the brain, a lady from across the room called him over.
“Excuse me for just one moment,” he pardoned himself. When Clifton walked away, a man from the adjacent table leaned toward us and motioned for us to come closer. “Don’t tell him I told you this, but Clifton, he’s smart—used to be a brain surgeon,” he whispered. “Goes to show what Camden can do to a man.”
-How do you remember people’s names?
-Can you share the attitude of St. Paul: bearing the marks of Christ in your life organically, naturally, essentially as he sees it?
-Can you think of a time when you were very wrong in an assessment of someone you met?
2. Last Week in Camden
Oblates from our two American provinces gathered at DeSales University for fellowship, discussion, and learning. The convocation took the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council as it focus. That gathering of all the world’s Catholic bishops highlighted missions from the Gospel that challenge us to be agents reconciliation and for fair and just social structures.
Vatican II asked the Church to be less a disapproving, scolding mother, but more open, humble, confident, smarter. Let me quote Pope John XXIII from his address at the opening of the Council:
In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.
We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.
Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era. We must recognize here the hand of God, who, as the years roll by, is ever directing men’s efforts, whether they realize it or not, towards the fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His providence, wisely arranging everything, even adverse human fortune, for the Church’s good.
Friday I discovered the BBC TV series Call the Midwife. Set in post-war 1950s Britain, the show might seem to have very little connection to Camden, NJ. However, its London neighborhood raises the same sort of powerful themes and questions as this community does. It also portrays vivid, unforgettable characters—also found in abundance here. You might like it.
Our young German guests left Saturday after a rich two weeks experiencing the US.
3. Upcoming Events
The second session of DSW’s Summer Internship Program begins next Sunday, July 7, and continues for three weeks to July 28.
Pope Francis offers a homily for this past Sunday (13th in Ordinary Time). He talks insightfully about conscience and ego and listening to God.
Alex Meier, an intern from last year and from the first session of this year has a great blog. Check in to it for more sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this community.
Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS