10 December 2012
2nd Week of Advent
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 Luke 3:1-6
… the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“Repentance” appears as a key word in Advent. The idea may sound like a sour note during December in America. And repenting may seem negative, part of a Catholicism’s unbalanced focus on sin or on guilt as motivator for good behavior. But at root the word means re-thinking—looking at life, our lives, in a fresh way. Sin is another word weighted down by association with shame and with people telling others how to act. But it can be a way to talk about whatever in our lives that disrupts the good, and blocks the smooth way of God to us, and us to God.
Often in discussions during service retreats, students talk about how being here and working here affects their thinking. They often report a new awareness of the blessings and advantages they have, especially in contrast to children and adults who possess almost nothing, or have no home, and often have little education or training. That consciousness often leads to renewed gratitude and compassion—repentance.
The other re-thinking that students report—and demonstrate—is an awareness that people they meet in Camden may have real differences from them: in culture, language, race, economic background, addiction, education. But those differences do not need to keep them from connecting. Not too many people here could easily fit into a Dickens Christmas village or a shiny nativity scene. (However, I could see our three sandwich ministry queens—Susan, Irma, and Rita—as magi bearing gifts of food, warm blankets, and soup.) But God’s word is being spoken and enfleshed here.
-Where might repentance—re-thinking—be healthy in your life?
-What gifts do you have to offer the Christ Child this season?
-Can you spend some time aware of blessings in your life today?
2. Last Week in Camden
Eighteen kids in a Salesianum homeroom served here Wednesday.
Volunteer C.J. Colton and his homeless coworker, Cary, finished their work converting a DSW basement window into a sleek, clean glass block window—with a vent.
Another Father Judge freshmen group served Thursday. Saturday morning Oblate postulant, Fr. Joe Wisniewski, campus minister at Judge, was back with thirty-four volunteers, including one dad and three teens from his old parish in the Wilmington Diocese. They arrived in Camden about 8:30 ready for a full day of work, reflection, and play until departure at 5:45.
One project involved placing a statue of the Blessed Mother holding the baby Jesus in the sandwich ministry’s covered doorway. Students built up a platform with granite blocks from an nearby ruined convent and cemented the statue in place on top. It looks great and acts as a reminder to all to bring our best selves to the fore.
Sunday night I noticed that it was also serving as a chair for a homeless guy, Roberto, sitting on the stones, his back against the statue. Not too confident in our cement work, I was going to ask him not to lean on the statue. Instead he told me he was headed to a rehab program run by a group out of South Camden. He felt blessed. I pointed out the statue to him, “María y Jesús.” And he said, “Yea, they have my back.” He went on to share that Mary doesn’t have power; God has the power. She cooperates with God and prays for us. This faith-sharing and his peaceful manner made all the work seem worthwhile. There is no way to know what effect even a simple act of service can have—a religious image, kindness, prayer.
Sunday was our parish celebration of Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A small percentage of the parish is from Mexico, and they tend to be the most recent arrivals with fewer English skills and less security in this country. But they know how to celebrate this feast.
3. Upcoming Events
Sallies is here Monday and Friday.
A group of students from brand new Cristo Rey Philadelphia high school will be here Saturday.
Read past reflections at the archives of Service Matters and on DSW’s Facebook page.
Mike McCue, OSFS