We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The works of war and the works of mercy

On Monday, April 26, more than sixty Midwest Catholic Workers gathered inside and outside of the Federal Building in Chicago to invite people to reject the works of war and to practice the works of mercy. Several members of the White Rose Catholic Worker and Kairos Chicago communities participated in the action. While some Catholic Workers staged die-in's to remember the victims of war, others distributed food and drinks to passersby. We continue to pray for an end to war and the dawning of a new day of peace.

"The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war. We cannot repeat this enough." -Dorothy Day, "In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter," The Catholic Worker (January 1967)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Experiments in Solidarity

Sitting in the twelve passenger van, I remember how much I hated slopping beans on men’s plates. The memory was of the endless line of poor migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, coming everyday by the thousands to receive their simple meal. This was the tireless work of the Franciscan Sisters of Peace, and their volunteers and I hated it.

I hated it because of my week before of being one of them. I wasn’t really one of them; I was a fraud, a pilgrim pretending to be homeless for a month. That week I was in a shelter with migrants on the north side of the boarder in Los Angeles. It was in this short time that the pain of the homeless really hit me. To my surprise, I never went hungry as there were plenty of good souls giving out food. What I was really hungry for was dignity. Walking with the men we were rejected from jobs, kicked off the streets, and at the end of all that, food was slopped on our plates. I am so use to people listening to me and giving me respect as an “intelligent white person.” I couldn’t take it. Sitting in the shelter one night I had to listen to a well intentioned Santa Clara student lecture me about how to get my life in order. I wanted to scream at her!

Slopping beans the next week I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. My soul, these men, our world, hungers for so much more than food lines. Yes, it is wonderful work that I need to keep doing. It is the basics and a beautiful work of mercy, yet I feel called to do more toward helping us all find our dignity

In my search for this “something,” I found community organizing and a ministry with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The work has taught me a methodology that helps bring people together to realize their own worth and voice in this world. It led me to the experience of driving the twelve passenger van down to Springfield, IL last Wednesday.

In the van were five Loyola University students, two Loyola Academy High School students, and four young adults who live in transitional housing units. We were taking this four hour trip to join thousands in raising our voices and advocating a tax increase so that education and social services don’t get cut as the State legislator tries to figure out how to deal with a $13 billion budget deficit.

I loved the day. I got to see one of the high school students tell her State representative how her faith calls for a society that protects and cares for the poor. I got to march with a crowd of 15,000 people from all backgrounds. There were teachers, health care workers, social service providers, and many children. It was an imperfect crowd for an imperfect cause. The proposed tax increase will not fix everything, but is a start. It was energizing seeing 15,000 people working for something bigger then themselves and desiring the good.

The best part of it all was the road games. I was nervous how the van ride would go and excited to see if the young people would bond. It didn’t seem to happen for most of the trip. The early departure and busy schedule made most of them retreat to sleep or their ipods. Thirty miles from Chicago, grace intervened. We hit awful traffic and in her frustration, one of the young adults who lives in transitional housing asked, “Does anyone want to play a game?”

The next two hours of stop and go traffic we all said what we were brining to grandma’s house, completed the rhythm, and spied unusual objects. After a tense day of working together for structural change it was nice to relax and laugh. Leading a reflection just before getting into the city, it was moving to hear them describe what it meant to be a part of something so significant, how it felt to be making a difference, and how they enjoyed creating a new community.

A fellow Jesuit asked me at dinner that night, “Were you the only Jesuit there today?” I didn’t even think of it. I was.

“It was good you were there,” he replied. Yes, it was good I was there. God had led me from an impersonal food line to being with a community of people raising their voice to demand change. It was awesome and I am tremendously grateful for the experience. The Spirit was alive that day and as a Companion of Jesus, it feels consoling to try to be where he is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Catholic Workers at a Tea Party

I appreciate the presence of the Worcester, MA Catholic Workers at the Tea Party rally in Boston. They engaged the growing movement in a creative and substantive way. May we heed the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a "radical revolution of values"!

For the full story, follow this link:


On Wednesday, April 14, 2010, Ken Hannaford-Ricardi, Julia Skjerli, and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy of the Saints Francis & Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, Massachusetts went to the Boston Common where a Tea Party rally addressed by Sarah Palin was held. At the edge of a crowd of about 4,000 Tea Party supporters, the Catholic Workers held signs and distributed almost 500 leaflets. Ken held a sign which read, “A Tea Party the US Needs Now.” It depicted colonists throwing boxes labeled “WAR” into Boston Harbor. Julia held a sign which read, “Cut Government Spending, End the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Now.” Scott wore a tri-corner hat and colonial garb. He rang a bell and quoted James Madison and Patrick Henry on the evils of a standing army.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Empire, Community, and the Power of the Resurrection

This is a reflection I gave at mass in my Jesuit Community the Wednesday of Easter, April 7th 2010:

First Reading: Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John at the Temple:“I have neither silver nor gold,but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35, The Road to Emmaus : “Were not our hearts burning within us…”


How do we be authentic followers of Jesus in the most violent Empire in the world?

This was a question posed to me a couple of weeks ago by a Catholic Worker in Washington D.C. and I believe was the very question that the early Christians were asking as they walked the road to Emmaus. What had really changed since the death and resurrection? The totalitarian regime was still in power with the religious establishment in collusion. The powers of Empire, the magnification of personal sins resonated back down upon them in force that worked to divide and isolate them. It was a power that held them fearful and oppressed. They were worthless, powerlessness, easily cast aside and crucified like their teacher. They could change nothing.

Today these powers of Empire take many different forms, but lead to the same structural sins that we can participate in. The economic and market forces are always reminding us of our inadequacy. The pervasive individualism works to isolate us and tell us that we are alone in our struggles. It brings that deep sense of loneliness and need always to assert ourselves, figure ourselves out. It is a sense of powerlessness that I, you, our community, really have no control over anything, we are consumers in this world of multinationals. We can feel as powerless as the first century Jews, unable to change anything.

How do we follow Jesus in such a world?

This story today of the journey is an answer of the early Christians give us. It is the pattern of the resurrection, of new life, and a new kind of power.

It all starts in sharing the pain. The two disciples began talking, arguing, debating over what everything meant. Other translations say they were having a lively exchange. What were they doing? I think they were opening up to one another. They were sharing their pain and frustration, their deep longing and hopes that did not come true.

They were sharing their burdens and joys, their communal sins and communal graces.

If they were here in this room they might be talking about their frustration with students, the dryness they find in classes, their hopes for the future, their struggles to live faithfully.

What did they find in this sharing, in this opening up to one another? Christ walked with him. The resurrected Christ listened to it all, entered into their lives, their joys and fears, the struggle and journey. He did not just leave it at a simple sharing, but transformed it.

He showed them that God is in it all. They and we are not alone. God is the in the struggle of life and has transformed it. They are not alone was the message as he opened scripture to them. There is a whole book here of God walking with her people, sharing in their journey, their struggle.

And what did they find in this sharing and insight? They found in their community that broke bread a new energy and life, their hearts were set on fire. It made them run back to Jerusalem to share this all with their brother and sisters, their community.

Is this not really what the resurrection was about? Did it not always create community that shared with one another, found God in their common journey? A community that helps each other carry the burdens of communal sin and grace. When we share and listen to one another, encourage and love one another, challenge and laugh, don't we find new life, find a power to face the world.

It is the same power Peter and John had in our first reading. They did not have the power of the Empire, which is money, affluence, and domination. What they did have was Jesus Christ, and a community of faith centered on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Peter did not just snap his fingers to heal the man, but symbolized community by reaching down, grabbing the man’s hand, helping him up and welcoming into the community where the man found healing and wholeness.

The invitation then today for us, as we continue to the journey, is to first of all be thankful for our own Christian community, our own community that comes together today to break bread, to share our lives, to share our mission as companions of Jesus. Let us pray that in these last few weeks of busyness and stress that we don't fall away from each other and give into the forces around us of isolation, individualism, and superficiality. Let us share with one another, encourage and love one another. Let us help one another find Christ in all we do and in that find the energy and life to continue building and welcoming others into our Christian community that labors with Christ to dismantle the structures of sin and replace them with the beauty of community, the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tax Collectors and Sinners

There exists in Christian circles a tendency to relegate those antagonistic to Jesus’ ministry to the religious elite, and maybe the Romans too, on occasion. The religious elite are generally subdivided into one of three categories: Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes who, for the present purpose, will be clumsily lumped into one group (though I’m sure they’d resent it) as the Old Covenant Elite (OCE). I would like to gently assert that there was another group that could be categorized as “religious elite” not because the previously established group would accept them as such, but because their attitudes and behaviors so often paralleled that of the former that it would be incongruous to consider this last group as entirely distinct. The group that I am referring to is the followers of Jesus. Another motley crew that will be morphed into one disorderly entity; the New Covenant Elite (NCE).

It can be amusing to take advantage of my position as a reader and a recipient of divine revelation that these groups only dreamt of to analyze and pick at the flaws of my predecessors. It can be challenging to see ways in which I’ve resurrected these flaws in my own body. And though I’ve often pondered the parallels I share with each group, I seldom have looked to see the parallels they share with one another.
Both the OCE and the NCE had been graced with a knowledge of God that they were meant to share, welcoming all who were willing to share in the covenant. And both, instead of receiving this grace as a call to serve took it as an opportunity to elevate themselves.

The OCE and the NCE each felt that they were the ones who had the key to the kingdom. The first because of their adherence to the law, the second because of their allegiance with Jesus. Just as the OCE frequently critiques Jesus and derides his disciples, the NCE dismisses children, and gentiles. And both groups were quick to shelter their sin beneath the protective covering of attacks against tax collectors. Tax collectors were viewed as traitors to the ethics of the Jewish faith, abusers of the poor, objects of scorn—objects, or at best diminished men—in the eyes of their fellow Jews.

One of the more popular films of Jesus’ life, The Greatest Story Ever Told, contains a poignant scene that emphasizes the struggle of the disciples to join with Jesus in extending a hand of friendship to the tax collectors. Peter has a volatile reaction to Matthew being beckoned to follow. When Jesus is dining with Matthew and his fellow “tax collectors and sinners,” Peter stands at a distance but not so far that he is unable to hear Jesus share with the community gathered around him the parable of the Prodigal Son. As Jesus finishes speaking his eyes lock on Peter and Peter knows that he is the second son who has and is rejecting his brother even as his father welcomes him, with open arms and a feast.

Lately, I have been thinking about whom, in the present, represents these various groups. I like to think that I am among those who could be considered followers of Christ; a rag tag bunch that frequently fails to fully understand his teaching, but who have been captivated by his words and deeds and want nothing more than to be near him. At our best, we endeavor to love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God. We make bumbling attempts to emulate our Lord, and when we fail, accept his chastisement and repent. Our worst, I think, is when we forget that the kingdom is not ours to define, but to reveal. That is, our worst is when we attempt to screen others from Jesus’ healing touch, or when we fail to see the spirit of Christ that is already in them. When we assume that we have exclusive rights to the Way. As a community who takes pride in identifying with the outcast, it is easy to assume that we are beyond this. After all, part of what unifies us is our desire to advocate for the poor, imprisoned and marginalized.

Then I think, "Who are the tax collectors of our day with whom we are reluctant to dine?" Who are those that seem to be dictated by an ethic that either rejects or distorts the social teachings of Jesus? Who are those that we might perceive as abusing the poor? I frequently find myself being dismissive toward those who have made a value of amassing wealth, or who are ignorant of or indifferent toward the consequences of their lifestyle choices, those who profit from the exploitation of workers and the environment. Surely, Jesus would not sit down with these? Surely, he does not honor the divine spark that resides in their spirit? Surely the Spirit of God that came to us when Jesus departed is the only one who can judge their hearts, just as that same Spirit judges mine.

When confronted for inviting himself to the home of Zaccheus, another tax collector, Jesus tells this story:

He said, “Two men went into the temple courtyard to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I'm not like other people! I'm not a robber or a dishonest person. I haven't committed adultery. I'm not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my entire income.' “But the tax collector was standing at a distance. He wouldn't even look up to heaven. Instead, he became very upset, and he said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ “I can guarantee that this tax collector went home with God's approval, but the Pharisee didn't. Everyone who honors himself will be humbled, but the person who humbles himself will be honored” (Luke 18:9-14).

In 1979 a similar story appeared in the Aug 10 edition of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Two men went into a church to pray, one a radical, the other a conservative. The radical looked straight at the altar, thinking, ‘Thank you, God, that I’m not like that conservative over there: color television, new car, charge accounts, taxes for nuclear weapons. I subscribe to the Catholic Worker, NCR, Sojourners and Commonweal. I fast every Friday. I refuse to pay war taxes. I only have a black-and-white television. I was once a political prisoner. I read Hans Kung.’ The other man, however, could hardly bear to look at the altar. He hung his head and prayed, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” (Jim Forest).

Pharisee or follower of Christ, radical or ridiculous girl; lately I have been feeling convicted by Jesus’ admonition, “Healthy people don't need a doctor; those who are sick do. 13 Learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, not sacrifices.' I've come to call sinners, not people who think they have God's approval” (Matt 9:12-13). And my heart murmurs, “Mercy, mercy,” as my lips form the words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say that word, and I shall be healed.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Walking Justice: Good Friday 2010

I began yesterday morning in prayer, reflection and poetry, curled up in my blanket as I sat on the couch of our common room. The poetry of Mary Oliver seemed to comfort me as I began meditating on the day ahead. I even put one of her books in the bathroom as if to say that I needed a little more connection than usual. And so I asked myself, why today?

Today was Good Friday, the day that marks the death of Jesus, nailed to a cross. And like a typical Catholic, I went to a solemn event portraying the stations of the cross. Actually, I was a part of the stations…

I went downtown with my larger community of friends for the event. When we rode the El downtown, I meditated and talked very little. I’ve been sick for the last few days and my energy level has been low but mostly I was intentionally slow about my preparation. Like the Buddhist, I wanted my actions of the day to be fully mindful. I wanted to be reverent for the day that Good Friday is and for the respect that I would be representing with my body. I sat in my seat, breathing, watching the buildings go by, watching my friends have conversations, smiling…I thought about Mani al-Utaybi, the who died on June 10, 2006 while he was being detained in Guantanamo. He, and two other men, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani apparently committed suicide during their time of detention. I’m not sure that this is true, but I do know that their detention in Guantanamo was painful and lacking in justice and so with my body as a symbol, I represented Mani al-Utaybi.

When we arrived to the walk a few of us gathered. I slowly put on the orange jumpsuit, an outfit that characterizes prisoners in places like Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. We took some moments for prayer and then I put the black hood over my head and became the silent symbolic representation of Mani al-Utaybi. There were others standing with me, representing more people who were tortured and died in pain. I became a mindful presence of a man I did not know and yet intimately connected with in his death.

We walked through the streets of Chicago with hundreds of others involved with the stations of the cross. They talked along the way about many things. I did not speak.

I walked and I heard people huff in disgust. I heard the curiosity of others. I heard the reverent understanding of how powerful the representation was. I found myself to have a sense of acceptance for all of this, a realization of the reality and then moving on. I didn’t dwell in any one comment but rather rested in the person that Mani al-Utaybi was.

At the ripe age of 25 years old, Mani al-Utaybi was committed to his faith. He desired to get married, have a family and continue his schooling and religious studies. I find that these are dreams that I too share for my own life. And in 2006, when he died, I remember processing my own hopes and dreams within the context of life. Mani al-Utaybi did not have the opportunity to live.

When we got to each station, each of us dressed in the jumpsuits stood in a straight line. We were still and connected. People looked on. Some took pictures and others simply glanced. Yet it was apparent that our role in this event was different. I was different.

We went through each station, each location was different. Friends were around us in solidarity. I could feel their caring presence. I wondered if Mani al-Utaybi knew that people cared for him. I wondered what he would think of this representation of his body.

And then the 9th station of the cross, the execution….

Kairos Chicago and the Witness Against Torture communities took the responsibility to bring the reality of modern day execution to the forefront of our minds. Using the bodies of those of us in jumpsuits, we reenacted the symbolic death of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Each man died yesterday, rested on the ground with only a sheet for a cover. And I too died…just for a moment with Mani al-Utaybi.

With the death of Mani al-Utaybi and the others I couldn’t help but think of all the other things that died with them.
Their hopes and dreams.
The pieces of them that rest in the hearts of those they love.
The reality of a life not fully lived.
The stark realization of a detention never examined.
The understanding of a story never fully told.
The investigation into the reality of how they left this earth.

As Christians we read the passion of Christ on Good Friday and we wonder if Jesus will remember us when we die. We wonder if Jesus is really like us at all and if he is, how is it that people like Mani al-Utaybi are still being crucified today (literally and figuratively).

Mani al-Utaybi, through the representation of my body, was removed from the circle by six pall-bearers, and the action was done. Shortly after I took off the jumpsuit and became me again. I sat down and looked at all the same people that I had once seen through the black hood. I was grateful to be alive and humbled to be in the heartfelt presence of my brother, Mani al-Utaybi. It took me a while to transition into being me again and yet I never fully left.

Today as I write this, I remember Mani al-Utaybi and all the other in prisons across the world. People who are held in conditions that strip away dignity. People who yearn to be released…people who struggle to find meaning in their existence…people who desperately grasp at each day in order to hold on to what little they have left.

Today, there are men and women being held in prisons who do not belong there. They have not been tried in a court of law. They do not have access to attorneys. And for many of them, their reality rests in a state of torture and impending death.

I cry out for them in prayer and mourning.

Salah Ahmed al-Salami…PRESENTE

Yasser Talal al-Zahrani….PRESENTE

Mani al-Utaybi…..PRESENTE