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Phil 4:13

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I walked into the room with some greetings from the women, and I watched closely as they prepared one of their creative meals…sweet and sour noodles. I asked what they used to make it: ramen noodles, kool-aid and some other sauce. Whip it all together into a zip loc bag, place it on top of the water thermos, and ta-da – your meal for the evening, if you wanted a snack.

A new year with new beginnings and I am looking forward to bringing Eucharist with me in these upcoming visits. I figured I should step up my game when I visit the units, so this is what I came up with: my comfort cross, an icon of Mary, baby Jesus, and the three kings bringing gifts to Jesus, and a little statue of Mother Cabrini. The comfort cross was given to me by my spiritual director in New York, when I went through the 19th Annotation and I figured it would be a great thing for the women to hold when we would go around and do prayer intentions.

The icon was given to me by one of my dearest classmates Tom who is a missionary with his family in Senegal. He is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met with so much wisdom and experience from his mission life. He is a pastor with the Assemblies of God and he builds churches and tends to other needs in the community. Anyway, he got this in the Holy Land and sent it to me recently. He got it at the 6th station of the Via Dolorosa, where now stands the Church of the Holy Face & St. Veronica, which is run by the Little Sisters of Jesus. And these Sisters made the mural. So precious!  I almost fell over when it came in the mail for me…I immediately knew that I would want this beautiful icon with me at my mini-altar set-up when I meet with the women. Very colorful, hopeful, and causes us to question, “What can we offer baby Jesus?”

Lastly, Mother Cabrini. Obviously. One of my biggest inspirations – she had to come with me for the ride.

Sure enough, I was sharing with the group Mother Cabrini’s mantra, “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.” Before I even finished, one of the ladies finished my sentence and used her ten fingers to say the scripture. One word per finger. It rolled right off her tongue. It was awesome!

I am hopeful for the year ahead for my ministry with restorative justice and I look forward to the exciting things ahead. Here we go!

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Determining the Purpose

God gives us the strength to change those things that can and must be changed. And God helps us to confront those things that happen unfairly, for no good reason. God helps us deal with what is beyond our control, what can’t be changed. I used to think that we are where we are for a preordained reason. But I no longer believe that is true. We are where we are, and it is up to us whether there is a purpose in it or not. Places, circumstances and encounter aren’t inherently meaningful; we make them meaningful, we give them purpose.

– Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, God’s Echo

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Bread for Others

This past week for our Advocacy, Public Policy & Human Rights class, we had to read two books: Living Justice by Thomas Massaro, SJ and Just Politics by Ronald J. Sider.  Great books – very informative, inspiring, and made me again ask the question, “Wow. What IF we treated one another with respect that reflects the Truth that everyone was made in the image and likeness of God?” One question we had to answer in our paper was: “How do the themes (as discussed by Massaro and Sider) build upon each other to form a holistic approach to the suffering and brokenness of the world?”

I don’t think I ever looked at Catholic Social Teaching (CST) as closely as I did, as I prepared for this assignment. I studied CST in college, but this time around, with the experiences that I have had, I found myself reading Massaro’s text with much more conviction and with a greater desire to practice and live CST more closely. What a challenge! How difficult that is! Now, if I could only meet him before he leaves Santa Clara…

I was working on my paper, and the song, “Here At This Table” randomly popped int my head, and I started singing it to myself:

You who labor for justice, you who labor for peace,
You who steady the plow in the field of the Lord…

Massaro writes, ” We all have something to contribute to the common good, and all may benefit from the gifts that we bring to the common table of human community and solidarity.” That quotation remained me with as I was writing my paper.

Mass happened that evening and the Gospel spoke about Bartimaeus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” That led me to truly ask myself, “What do I want Jesus to do for me?” Sitting in Church, suddenly, I found myself reflecting on the Eucharist.

As communion started to be distributed, ironically enough, “Here At This Table” was the song the choir decided to sing. What?! God – get out of my mind (that was my immediately thought!) And then, I had an interesting experience. An overwhelming feeling of sadness came over me, as I thought to myself, “Who is not gathered around this table? Who is not present receiving communion? Who are left out of the community – intentionally or unintentionally? How can I be more welcoming to the stranger?” I saw something like this:

last_supper_with_street_children20lowresTaken From: “Last Supper with the Street Children

In my church pew, instead, I thought of all the people who are normally sitting on the streets asking for food and money…but this time, underneath the table of the Eucharist. There are thousands in the San Jose area alone who are shunned by the community – many who do not feel welcome. What good is it to receive the Body of Christ if I choose to not use this to strengthen me, inspire me, and move in me to serve others? Blessed, broken, and shared.

What a challenge it is, every time we receive the Body of Christ.

Come and be filled here at this table.
Food for all who hunger and drink for all who thirst.
Drink of his love, wine of salvation.
You shall live forever in Jesus Christ the Lord.

Receiving this bread is not meant for me alone. How beautiful it would be if we allow our experiences to transform us and engage with others around us. Catholic Social Teaching in action is difficult, and at times I find myself picking and choosing – out of convenience or my own selfishness. But I acknowledge this, and every day is another chance to be better and better learn how I can be bread for others.

Image:  “The Communion Table Top” | CC BY 2.0

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What Happens on Monday Nights…

It had been a few weeks since I had a chance to visit the women at the Correctional Facility because they had been on lockdown every time I would come. When that happens, I sit in the waiting room with other family members awaiting their visits, and literally stare at the clock until enough minutes pass by so that I can get up and ask the officer if the lockdown had been lifted. You don’t want to annoy them, you know.

Past few visits, the lockdown was in effect for the whole night so I would be sent home after an hour. When that happens, I feel terrible for many reasons….but mostly because the women who I usually spend time with on Monday nights don’t get the memo that no visitors are being allowed inside, and they end up thinking, “Oh, they decided not to come tonight.” Which is totally not the case!

Tonight, I headed over to the jail and said multiple prayers to God asking that a lockdown would not be taking place. And it wasn’t. It was the complete opposite! I remember before I went through the doors thinking to myself, “Mother Cabrini, Jesus, you are with me. This is what you would do, right? Let’s do this!”

Tonight was totally seamless, super nice officers, and my usual 8-person Bible study group tonight was a whoppin’ 13! That’s a big deal…especially when you’re in a super small room with an awkwardly large table on the side too filling up half of it. The circle was complete and if we added any more people, it would have been standing room only. As soon as the women started coming in, I couldn’t help but start smiling! I was immediately filled with joy to see them again and catch up with them. One of the other girls couldn’t join us but she asked me where I had been cause it had been such a long time! Ah, but she understood. Phew!

The Holy Spirit showed up tonight. And Joy and Hope too. I started off by having them do an icebreaker (the teacher in me) with their name, and the rose and thorn from the past week. They seemed to enjoy it. Gotta take advantage of opportunities to build community, you know! It was awesome. We started off with lots of laughing, some serious stories, and then thanksgiving for the gift of being able to be in that space with one another. They all had their Bibles with them, but I told them I had a different plan and I wanted to go over the address that Pope Francis gave to the Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania. They were so excited to read it because they only read bits and pieces of his U.S. visit in magazines. We talked a little about the Pope, I gave some background on who he was, and then we were about to get started. The women were in good spirits and it was a lively bunch. That always makes it easy!

Before I passed out the texts though, one of the women stopped me and said, “Crystal, sorry to interrupt, but can you share with us why you’re here? Like, do you choose to be here?” One of the other girls next to her gave her a push and was like, “Do you see her smiling so big? She totally wants to be here!” And the other girl said, “But why? I don’t get it.” I immediately thought to myself, “Dang. That’s a good question – how do I articulate this?” I then shared with them my thoughts and they were grateful. There were a lot of “awwws” and more smiles. So that was a good thing.

We went through the text from Pope Francis then went around each reading a paragraph. I had never seen the women so engaged in a text before. It was absolutely quiet when one woman would be reading. As soon as we finished, I heard deep breaths and lots of, “Wow”s and “That was so good” and “Can I keep this paper?” We discussed the text and they were comforted to know that they were not forgotten. They are truly a beautiful group of women – some my age, others younger than me, and others who are older moms with multiple children.

I had marked up my paper with highlighter and blue pen marks with questions and scriptures and tried to touch on as much of it as possible, but one part really stood out to me:

Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust. He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion. – Pope Francis (Full Text here)

We spent some time discussing these last few sentences and I kept going back to the same thing: inherent dignity and mission. Yes, perhaps crimes were committed, wrongdoings had taken place, but dignity from God…that is there to stay. Amen? Amen. Mission sure may look different inside the walls than from the outside, but it’s in the little things that can make a difference. And mission never ends – no matter where we are. We shared examples of what that could look like within their cells. How could they serve one another in the midst of their circumstances? We talked about these things.

Repeating these phrases to the women tonight confirmed and affirmed my belief in God’s desires for each one of us. Whether or not the women recognize God’s presence in their lives, I felt the Spirit affirm and celebrate their presence in that room. For some, it was their first time being there tonight, and one of the women shared how grateful she was that she decided to come. In that moment, I was so certain that God loved each and every one of them – and that message from Pope Francis was meant for them too. Each one of them.

I closed us in prayer and some were wiping their eyes when we ended. In a way, it was an out of body experience for me, in that I felt the Spirit’s presence in the room, and it was filled with hope and such a joy to be with them. The conviction that I felt of their dignity and their call to love and service in the world was/is indescribable. It was a very powerful night. They prayed for one another, and to me, they reflected what a supportive community could look like.

I feel incredibly grateful for this ministry and for the opportunity to spend time with others in this capacity. There is so much work to be done and I am so grateful to be a part of it in the smallest of ways.

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Why question?

Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton were mentioned in Pope Francis’ recent address to Congress. Very fitting that I found this post by Dorothy Day sitting in my drafts!

A friend sent us a dollar yesterday, and with it the remark: “Enclosed is for bread, but not to make bums out of those who should be earning their own.”

I thought of that this morning when I passed a little group of four who always seem to be hanging around the place, out in front, in the coffee room, in the doorways. Always drunk, sometimes prostrate on the sidewalk, sometimes sitting on the curb, they give a picture of despair or hilarity, according to the mood they are in. And, to the minds of many of our friends, they epitomize the 600 or so who come here to eat every day.

This morning as I came from Mass, I passed the little vegetable woman around the corner, washing her mustard greens in a huge barrel of cold water. Her hands were raw and cold. It was one of those grey mornings, wet and misty, and the pavement was slimy under foot. I commiserated with her over her hands, and she said: “What are you going to do? If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

When I passed this same little knot of men in front of the house, whom I had passed on the way to church, I told them about the little Italian woman, and they hung their heads sheepishly and went away. I don’t know what can be done—except to pray. Here are the most humiliated of men, the most despised, the evidence of their sins flagrant and ever present. And as to what brought them to this pass—war and poverty, disease and sorrow—who can tell? Why question? We must see Christ everywhere, even in his most degraded guise. Dorothy Day

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