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Friday, July 1, 2011

Good Eats in Phoenix

I have always enjoyed cooking and entertaining for friends and family. I enjoy finding new recipes, setting the table, and welcoming friends into my home. The laughter and conversation that happens when friends gather around a table and break bread together is truly a moment of grace.

In that way my transition into the kitchen of André House was very natural. On the other hand, cooking for 600 is a little different than cooking for six. André House is a hospitality center in downtown Phoenix. At André House, we provide basic need services to the homeless population. This includes clothing, showers, laundry, hygiene products, blankets, phone calls, Bibles and rosaries, backpacks, and sleeping bags. Our largest service each day is dinner where we average 600 trays of food per day.

In many ways 600 trays of food is very impersonal; each person and each tray becomes a number. Yet, at André House we work hard at creating a welcoming and personal atmosphere in the same way we would for a family dinner. The people we serve are truly our guests, our neighbors, and our friends.

We start each meal from scratch. Fresh vegetables picked up from the food bank, fresh bread donated from a bakery, and 40 pounds of frozen ground beef serves as the base for each meal. Each day we serve a fresh lettuce salad and many days we have a fruit salad as well. Anywhere from 20-40 volunteers come each day to chop 50 pounds of onions, slice 1200 slices of bread, wash lots of dishes, and stir the 30 gallon pots.

As you can imagine, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. On Easter a few years ago we basted the Easter hams with hot chocolate instead of ham juice. It just gave the ham a little extra sweetness. About a month ago, I lit my hair on fire while attempting to light the large, gas burners. Luckily volunteers were nearby to help before the problem was out of hand. We also have our fair share of messes. Have you ever spilled 15 gallons of cooked oatmeal? It is a hot, sticky, runny mess.

Yet, everyday the blessings outweigh the stressors. I remember one night when a

guest showed up late to dinner and we were not able to serve him. Rather, another guest who had a tray of food asked for an empty tray. The guest who had food carefully and deliberately cut his hot dog in half, split his beans, potatoes, lettuce salad, fruit salad, and donut in exactly half and offered half his food to this late, yet hungry guest. Silently they shared a meal and truly broke bread together.

Moments like this are amazing reminders of the presence of God and God’s subtle workings in our lives.

On any given night as I walk through our main dinning room I can see small groups of friends sitting down together, praying together, and sharing their meal with smiles and laughter. It is not so different than when I sit down and share a meal with my friends.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coloring Outside the Lines

Scripture Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (April 3, 2011)
Scripture Readings:
1 Samual 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-6
Eph 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

"This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus maintains a continual conversation with the religious leaders of his day. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees question him for his actions.

I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew. He grew up in the traditions and customs of the Jewish people. He called the temple His Father’s house. He worshiped in the synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrated Passover.

The Pharisees had painted a picture in their mind of what it meant to be Jewish. Anything that deviated from this picture was neither faithful to Judaism nor to God. Thinking inside the box is safe. The status quo is comfortable. Coloring inside the lines is easy.

Yet, Jesus never let his life be defined by the Pharisees. He constantly challenged the Pharisees to expand their ideas of what it meant to be a faith-filled servant. Jesus did not fit in the Pharisees’ picture. Jesus colored outside the lines. He loved his enemy, overturned the money tables, and healed on the Sabbath.

Some lines are good. They act as a guide, show us wisdom, and can help lead us into community with others. Yet, when lines become too rigid, they separate us from each. Rigid lines cause us to not be able to think of the world in a different way and can lead us to become unconscious of the decisions and actions we make each day.

Our faith is not a color-by-numbers assignment. Rather, God gives us a gigantic box of crayons. We have the options of different colors, different combinations, and different patterns. We are called to color outside the lines of class, gender, race, religion, age, peer groups, politics, and social and economic classes. As Jesus said, “we are to become like children” and our lives are to be a canvas full of color,
light, imagery, and the love of God and neighbor drawn out through radical action and love.

This week I invite you to reflect what lines you have drawn that you need to cross over. Where have unbending lines been drawn that inhibit faith? What areas of your life need color? Where in your life has Christ’s light not shined? Today is the day to break out your box of crayons and color your life to reflect the radical Gospel message of Christ.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wherever You Need Me

When I help coordinate a soup-line every Saturday, there comes a time when the preparation is nearing an end and I have to assign everyone jobs for the time during which we serve dinner. There are a number of jobs that are needed: working in the kitchen or family dining room, serving food or drinks, washing trays or taking out the trash. Some are more glamorous than others, but they are all very important. When assigning the jobs, I try to take into consideration people’s preferences but sometimes when I ask, the reply comes back: “Wherever you need me.”

As we celebrated the feast of the annunciation on Friday, that line came to mind: “Wherever you need me.” This is basically what Mary was saying with those words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
And this is how we too are called to respond to the Lord when He gives us various “assignments”, even when they may be unexpected or difficult. We are not to insist on serving God only in the way that we would like, but rather we agree to go wherever he needs us most. Like the volunteer who is just happy to be able to help in some way, it should be with joy that we receive the opportunity to be used by God, submitting our gifts, our time, and ourselves in service to Him.
It is indeed a great privilege to be a part of God’s work, and we know that whatever job he assigns us, it is an important one for which he will provide the grace and strength to do it well. May we continually reply to the Lord’s calling as Mary did upon receiving the angel’s message: “Wherever you need me.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oscar Romero

Today marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of archbishop Oscar Romero. As a voice of justice and reconciliation in El Salvador during the political unrest of the 1970s, his words are still very relevant and challenging to us today. Romero was one of the few voices of peace, self-sacrificial love, and nonviolence in a country griped with fighting, hatred, fear, and suffering. He spoke much of social justice as well as the need to be internally liberated from the bondage of sin:

"The church does not want the liberation it preaches to be confused with liberations that are only political and temporal. The church does concern itself with the earthly liberation - it feels pain for those who suffer, for the illiterate, for those without electricity, without a roof, without a home.
"But it knows that human misfortune is found not only there. It is inside, deeper, in the heart - in sin. While supporting all the people's just claims, the church wants to lift those demands to a higher plane and free people from the chains that are sin, death, and hell.
"It wants to tell us to work to be truly free, with a freedom that begins in the heart: the freedom of God's children - the freedom that makes us into God's children by taking from us the chains of sin."

Since we are currently in the season of Lent, I thought it would be appropriate to include a quote of Romero speaking to his people about this liturgical season.

"This Lent, which we observe amid blood and sorrow, ought to presage a transfiguration of our people, a resurrection of our nation. The church invites us to a modern form of penance, of fasting and prayer - perennial Christian practices, but adapted to the circumstances of each people. Lenten fasting is not the same thing in those lands where people eat well as is a Lent among our third-world peoples, undernourished as the are, living in a perpetual Lent, always fasting. For those who eat well, Lent is a call to austerity, a call to give away in order to share with those in need. But in poor lands, in homes where there is hunger, Lent should be observed in order to give to the sacrifices that is everyday life the meaning of the cross.
"But it should not be out of a mistaken sense of resignation. God does not want that. Rather, feeling in one's own flesh the consequences of sin and injustice, one is stimulated to work for social justice and a genuine love for the poor. Our Lent should awaken a since of social justice.
"Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aid, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier."

Oscar Romero was martyred on March 24th, 1980 while celebrating Mass.
These quotes have been taken from a book called "The Violence of Love" (referring to the violence to self, the death to self that is required by love). The book is a collection of quotes taken from Romero's sermons, compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, S.J.