Service Matters – 31st Week in Ordinary Time

5 November 2012

31st Week in Ordinary Time

Sts. Elizabeth & Zachariah


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
  •  Links


1. Service Word  Mark12:28B-34

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus replied, “The first is this:

Hear, O Israel!

The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul,

with all your mind,

and with all your strength.

The second is this:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.

You are right in saying,

‘He is One and there is no other than he.’

And ‘to love him with all your heart,

with all your understanding,

with all your strength,

and to love your neighbor as yourself’

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,

he said to him,

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

And no one dared to ask him any more questions.


The last line of this gospel passage always strikes me as one of the saddest in the Bible.   Being alive raises so many questions.    Why would you not bring them to the one, who not only has insight and goodness, but is Truth and Life?    Perhaps one reason is that often the goal of questions in these crowd situations with Jesus was confronting and defeating him, but people saw that was not so easy.   Even the scribe here can only respond by repeating back what the Lord just said.  And surely Jesus’ way points very firmly to concrete action, not endless, abstract debate.


Saturday part of the Walsingham Academy service group was painting a fence on Vine St. across from Holy Name School, picking up the bright colors and style that students from Cristo Rey had started during their day here a couple weeks back.   A fellow approached the group and confronted us with repeated questions, “Is this going to fix the fence?”   “You are not from North Camden, are you?”  Pointing to the row of abandoned houses behind the fence, “Is this painting going to fix those?”  Clearly he wanted to make the point that it can be easy to come here and perhaps think you are “saving Camden” by painting up a wavering fence, and then heading back home to the comfortable suburbs.   City life has a public quality to it, neighbors and passers-by see what we do and offer comment.   Usually people express thanks, encouragement, water, or a hand—not this guy.   Despite his attitude, he raised valuable issues.


We would love to be able to rehab the fence—and the two rows of abandoned, decaying homes that border the park.  We would also love to end the drug trade, addiction, poverty, lack of education, unhappiness, pollution, homelessness, and mental illness.   What we try to work on are projects that make some difference: cleaning up, reaching out to neighborhood kids and Holy Name students, talking to homeless people, treating addicts with respect, connecting people of different cultural and economic backgrounds.    Each of these actions is small.   But the world would be diminished without them.   Each requires hope that someone, at least, will be touched and uplifted, that conditions in Camden will get better—one small step at a time.

-Are there any large goals or projects looming for you that you could break down into manageable parts?

-What top three questions do you have for the Lord when you see him?

-How does the greatest commandment affect your life and choices?



Last Week in Camden

Super-storm Sandy brought Camden only a wet day of soaking drizzle and heavy winds; we were very fortunate.   Anticipating the hurricane, city government cleared leaves from drains and prepared emergency shelters for those who might be displaced by flooding and power loss.   Homeless people were told to go to the police headquarters and from there were driven to a few ad hoc shelters.   We got involved in one housed at St. Joseph Parish School in East Camden.    Msgr. Bob McDermitt, a board member and huge supporter of Joseph’s House—the effort to end homelessness in Camden—is pastor there.   Ethan, C. J., Raphaël, and I, along with three Jesuit Volunteers, arrived in the early evening and stayed overnight until 6:00AM to help staff the shelter.   We helped house 54 people—many we know from Tent City, Downtown, or North Camden.

C.J. Colton, a Sallies grad here for service retreat, took on the project of restoring a fence at Northgate Park.  The fence had blown over during Sandy and a tree fell on it.   Several neighborhood friends come by to assist him with the project.   Buried bricks and stones from houses that used to stand where the fence is made digging post holes a real battle.

A group from Walsingham Academy arrived by Amtrak Friday afternoon.   During their four days here, they worked at school, in the park, at the Cathedral—all the usual tasks with energetic devotion.


3. Upcoming Events

Students from Bishop Eustace in near-by Cherry Hill arrive here Thursday for a long Camden weekend.   Tom Briese DSW volunteer 2010/2011 will be here for a few days to check out the new medical school in Camden and to reconnect with his DSW friends.    Father Judge High School freshmen will be here Thursday.   Sunday a group called Teens Against Poverty will be here for Mass and service.  This student group based in West Chester, Pa, has been a great supporter for DSW.   It will be great to host them so they can all experience what their donations have benefited.


4. Links

Skim Camden reflections at the archives of Service Matters  on the Oblate website.

Check out Joseph’s House of Camden freshly articulated mission statement.   The program will start up on November 25—after we jump through the many hurtles sent our way by the city.




 Father Mike McCue, OSFS

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