God Is Here Too

IMG_2029-e1565280560604-297x300By Tanner Loper, FC 21

I’ve been working at the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter (CCMS) for a few months now. For many, this is a place of last resort. Even after a client is kicked out of another shelter, we’ll take them in. Even if a client has ongoing difficulties with drugs, alcohol, or mental health, we’ll make them a bed. The “bedroom” is a large open space, reminiscent of a boot camp barracks, with numbered beds and footlockers. We call it the dorm. There are some offices in a room at the back of the building. That is where the caseworkers are. They hammer away at their keyboards and talk loudly into their phones and scratch appointment notes onto scrap paper. They are required to meet with each of their clients at least once a week to get them registered for public assistance, employed, and housed as soon as reasonably possible. Most days, I float from empty desk to empty desk (depending on who’s not around) to run tuberculosis test reports, tend to a small caseload, and enter intake forms from new clients into the homelessness management database. In the time between, I interact with clients at the front desk and by the kitchen.

Not long ago, I was asked to collect a client’s belongings into bags. He was being kicked out. I was told this was because he had failed to meet with his caseworker for three weeks straight. I obediently went to his bed and began packing. Every time I touched an item, I felt like I was trespassing on his very person. A man who hardly had himself only had three trash bags of items, and even those were subject to my consolidation. Among the items to pass through my hands were two pieces of cardboard. One was large enough to sleep on (I prayed he wouldn’t  need it) and the other was small enough to be held on a street corner. He came ready to leave. On his sign was written:

NEED

help with

some $$

Food

Is all poetry intended?

I haven’t been able to make much of this experience yet.

When Christ says that he is the poor, and that the poor are him (Mat. 25:31-46), and when we are asked to imitate him (1 Cor. 11:1), what are we supposed to do? Are we meant to perform some great feat of service for our fellow man to serve our Lord? It seems like it. Should we scour the streets for the cold and hungry to welcome them into our homes every night? Maybe. Should we renounce all our belongings and become like the poor in order to be like Christ? Probably. Those would indeed be great feats of sanctity, but I’m coming to realize there’s more to it than that. I am reminded of something Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “The smallest thing that can love is one of the greatest things,” and I think it’s true. I might not be living as simply as I could, and I might miss some opportunities to serve, but I pray all the time that the love of Christ might multiply my tiny deeds. Maybe one day I’ll be offered the grace of complete surrender. For now, though, I will hand over the sandwich and call the landlord just as I should. I will look at the men in the eyes and say something along the lines of “Let’s get you your own place,” or, simply, “Good morning.”

One Friday, the community was gathered for its nightly prayer. We had just finished reading St. John the Evangelist’s words: “He who loves is born of God and knows God” when we took a period of silence. There then came from the house next door a mighty and joyful song. What seemed to be a dozen people sang in their loudest voices in an unfamiliar language. Our neighbors, seldom seen, were then heard loud and clear. We just listened. As I allowed myself to be inundated by that song, I could have sworn I heard a choir of angels picking up harmonies. Notes of liquid love were weaved into every sound wave. There came in seraphic song the message “God is here too.”

It is difficult to say exactly what I look forward to in the next year. It looks a little like losing myself and a little like finding myself. I hope to learn to relate to my work and my community in a way that brings me into a closer relationship with Christ. I hope to let the men I see every day loosen my vanities and my pride. I look forward to the narrowing of the gap between myself and my Lord. Most of all, though, I hope to encounter His Love one moment of eye contact, one sandwich, one prayer, one song at a time.

2 MAC 15:38.

Ministry of Listening

IMG_2033-e1565280674579-278x300By Kate Timmermann, FC 21

Northside Syracuse, where the FrancisCorps house is and where our parish, Assumption Church, has its outreach ministries, is a diverse neighborhood made up of many small communities, each with its own culture and language. The population that Assumption ministries serve is among the most vulnerable and least remembered in the Northside: the families who struggle with mental illness, addition and generational poverty. At Friar Rick’s suggestion, I started what we have been calling a “listening ministry” in the Food Pantry at Assumption. I sit on the benches where clients come in for sandwiches or groceries, listen to the conversations around me and form relationships with pantry regulars.

I feel awkward there. It must be painfully apparent that I am not a pantry client and that I am in a world of which I have no experience. Sometimes pantry volunteers are confused why I am not working! Internally, I am shaken by the upheaval in these people’s lives because of their vulnerability, and I am angry that they are so often overlooked. I leave the pantry drained and exhausted, wondering if I have accomplished anything.

I have also been physically drained these past few weeks by a lingering ear infection, which both takes a toll on my energy levels and makes it harder to hear. That is right; the girl listening to people in the pantry is doing it with only one ear! I cannot help but be reminded of the blind man who cries for Jesus to have mercy on him so that he might see. I have been deaf to the plights of my brothers and sisters who come to the food pantry and I am still learning to ask for mercy of the Lord, that I might truly hear them.

The listening ministry is not only to hear the needs of those we serve, but it is also to affirm them as children of God. I am still deaf- or at least half deaf- and cannot hear their hearts, but I can try to reflect the love of Christ for the people who come to the pantry, who are now my friends, my brothers and my sisters. I am almost assuredly hopelessly naïve in many ways, but perhaps my youth and inexperience, which at first seems only inconvenient and exhausting to overcome, can allow me to create this position in the strange gray area between office and food pantry, between professionals in non-profits and the homeless who need their services, between Assumption Church as an institution and the Northside as a transient, argumentative, colorful community of folks just surviving.

A Reflection of God’s Love

IMG_2039-e1565280237970-263x300By Lauren Chacon, FC 21

FrancisCorps is like a seed that God tenderly planted in my heart. During my junior year
of college, Friar Rick, the chaplain of FrancisCorps, visited my campus ministry at the University of Texas at El Paso. I attended a presentation he gave on FrancisCorps and fell in love with the program. Despite my attraction to FrancisCorps, I had no intention of applying to the program. At that time, I had a career path set and I was determined to stick to it; however, the seed that God planted in my heart grew and blossomed into a complete desire to serve God through FrancisCorps. He called me to FrancisCorps; everything I longed for in a service program was embodied through the FrancisCorps volunteer program.

With God at the heart of FrancisCorps, His love is lived out through the Franciscan
values of community, service, and brotherhood. I am so very blessed to be a part of this
program and of this beautiful community. In just a few months my community has become a family, sharing life and love with one another. There is a fire in my heart to be a reflection of God’s love to His people through service in FrancisCorps.