Service Matters – Second Week of Advent

5 December 2011

Second Week of Advent


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
  • Links


1. Service Word  Luke 3:4,6

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.   People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.


We were in the neighborhood this week visiting each corner store, bodega (North Camden has 22 bodegas), to drop off flyers promoting an upcoming parish retreat.   This may not seem like much of a service activity, but “flyer-ing” provides way to get into the neighborhood, to tour and to meet people—all in the context of sharing news about something positive.

In front of one bodega was a team of drug dealers—AKA three kids in their late teens.   I practiced “aggressive friendliness” with eye contact and a warm greeting.   One of the guys asked, “Are you from the Church.”   “Yes, from Holy Name.”  Though Holy Name Parish merged with the Cathedral, the name serves as completely recognizable and well-regarded shorthand for Catholic presence in North Camden.   The young man introduced himself, “Carlos.”   “I made my first communion there and confirmation; Sister Helen helped me.”   He said more about his warm regard for the parish and Sr. Helen Cole, SSJ, but then stopped—back to business.   We gave him and his co-workers the retreat advertisements.


It always strikes me how ordinary drug dealers are—just adolescent boys, wearing a tough guy persona.   But they are involved in a trade that ruins lives—including their own, if that “persona” becomes all they are—and they remain unconserned about the damage done to human beings by the chemicals they sell.


John the Baptist’s focus on sin sounds a discordant note in this season—20 shopping days until Christmas.    His message can reinforce the idea that Catholicism is all about sin and guilt.  Without doubt there can be a distorted emphasis on sin and on “meriting” God’s love in our religion.   But a truly balanced—Catholic—sense of sin is simply realistic and healthy.    Whether we deal drugs, or are more ordinary sinners, or people sometimes haunted by past sins, mistakes, and regrets, can there be a more practical gift than forgiveness—an opportunity for a fresh start?

-Do you have a balanced, healthy sense of sin? —and of God’s no-strings-attached forgiveness?

-How can you invite God to share anything from your past that haunts you—loss, regret, failure?

-Are you able to take time to “wander, wallow and wonder” (Oblate website.) in rich imagery, memory, and moment of this Advent/Christmas/Epiphany Season?

2. Last Week in Camden 

Friday morning ten students from Visitation Academy traveled up 95 for a full day of service and reflection.   Hadley Walsh, Visitation’s new service director and Oblates Bob Killion and Ryan Cronshaw led the trip.   The group began working right away at the Cathedral sandwich service and at nearby New Visions day shelter.   They were at Holy Name School for lunch, recess, the after school program.  The day ended with meals made of food purchased at three different bodgeas and a talk by Ken Halloman.


3. Upcoming Events 

Tuesday the Romero Center, another service retreat center in Camden, has an Advent series that DSW Tim Gallagher is helping to lead.  Wednesday Sallies sophomores have a retreat day here. Thursday seven students from Seattle Pacific University arrive for a two week stay.   They will be our guests at the service house and will work at Urban Promise in Camden.

Friday, DSW supporter, Paula Riley and friends from Norwood-Fontbonne grade school and Our Mother of Consolation Parish will be here for the morning serving with their kids.    That evening a group from Holy Family Parish in Newark DE will arrive in time for a “bodega meal,” and then a full Saturday of service.


4. Links

Oblate provincial, Jim Greenfield, has a great Advent video reflection at the Oblate website.  “Wonder, Wallow, Wander.”


Jesuit James Martin, writer for America magazine (and chaplain for Comedy Central’s Colbert Report) posted a thoughtful essay about the new translation of Catholic prayers for Mass An Elegy for the Sacramentary.





  Mike McCue, OSFS

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