Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time

The following is a Lenten reflection written by Adam Kretz, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

“The last fall is devastating; Jesus can barely proceed to the end. Summoning all his remaining strength, supported by his inner trust in God, Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross. His executioners look at him as a broken man, pathetic yet paying a price he deserves. They help him up so he can make it up the hill of crucifixion.”

I procrastinated as I always have in the past with writing assignments; the trouble is always in getting started. Intending to transmit an important and meaningful message while preparing myself to share something intimate in order to write that document. The How I've found is always the difficult part. It is the doing, the sacrificing of time. The decision to dedicate energy and attention to something on faith that is for a higher purpose, on faith that it is serving a greater good, it is a difficult and draining commitment. Finding a way to do all this in the span of an hour seems like futile effort. But that’s the thing about procrastination; it is not the act of putting things off as much as it is a way of rationalizing why not do something important, meaningful, vulnerable.

When I sat down to reflect on this ninth station I found myself feeling embarrassed and slightly ashamed of how little I actually know about this Man, this one true Son of God that I have lately been hearing so much about. Now I was baptized and raised as a Catholic, educated on the faith by my parents and by my religious education classes. After all these years I have only held on to a general idea of who Jesus was and why he died on the cross. I am no longer a Catholic and so I am less ashamed to admit to having watched a 2 and half minute video titled: Who is Jesus put out by the channel Bibles for America, which helped only confirm what I already knew about the story: that Jesus is God and the only son of God and that he lived an amazing life and helped many people before having to sacrifice himself in order to save all of us from going to hell.

At that pointed I stopped to think about this sacrifice through my new prism of faith. What would it mean for “God”, in the way that I understand “God” to kill itself? The sacrifice of a child of God who is also God, so that everything is better off, this is a very difficult thing for me to wrap my head around. It made me think of this idea of Opportunity Cost that’s found in Economics, that states when you choose to do one thing you cost yourself the opportunity do another. For a long time in my life I have been consumed by my gambling addiction and the many vices that come along with, the cigarettes, the partying,  the drugs, the tv and alcohol. So many distractions, but most dangerous part was what it took me away from. Which was a meaningful life. My addiction kept me from spending quality time with my family and friends, from working on my goals and dreams, all the things I care about most, instead I was shackled to the wall of the closest casino, stuck inside my prison, my hell. I stayed there for so many years chained up, distracted from the hard, difficult, uncomfortable things that were my footholds toward a better life. But before this year of service began I fought my way through the pain and pressures of my struggle that had always kept me down. I got beyond the next roll of the dice because I realized that I will never become the person I was meant to be if I am trapped behind the walls of temptation and indulgence.

Like many prodigious figures in history I only generally understand. Jesus for me is a beautiful example of this intentional faith based way of living and dying. I wonder to myself, what does it mean to be so committed to one’s relationship with God where you must sacrifice and trust even when it’s painful, even when others may not understand, even when you may not understand yourself?

In Station nine Jesus is at the point where he can physically no longer bear the weight of the cross. His muscles give out and the final moments of his life come to a close. For me this station is about understanding why it is sometimes necessary to deliberately push myself past pleasure and comfort in order to be put through pain, because the mission, the goal, the future I want for myself, my family, my friends, my fellow humans, is on the other side of that hurt, it is only a hurdle in the way, how you overcome it is in that trust and support from The Divine, The Infinite.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The following is a Lenten reflection written by Paul Marsh, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

I majored in Economics in undergrad. The thing that really gets me going about Economics is that it offers mathematical proof of correct human behavior. One of the basic principles of free trade economics is the idea of comparative advantage, which basically states that no matter how many things you’re good at, you should focus on the thing you’re the best at, and then do that thing for other people. Let’s say we live in opposite land, where I’m great at both cooking and cleaning, and all of my South House roommates are terrible at them both. You’d think that if I were acting in my own best interest, I would just cook and clean for myself, while letting my roommates wallow in their own pathetic attempts to microwave toast. But actually, I’m better off if I do all of their cooking for them, and let them clean. In other words, the idea of “I don’t need your help” holds very little weight. Math backs this up. Math seriously says we should be nice to each other. We see this economic principle of comparative advantage at play in the sixth station, when Veronica wipes the sweat and blood off of Jesus’ face. Jesus could probably do this more efficiently than Veronica, because he is literally God. However, while Veronica is busy wiping, Jesus is able to spend that time performing a small yet beautiful miracle.

This idea of help being a two-way street is expressed most succinctly in the Prayer of St. Francis, with the line, “for it is in giving that we receive.” But we find it elsewhere in the Catholic faith, and often enough that it could be described as a tenet of Catholicism. I've experienced this tenet a lot this year in my work at Taller de Jose. As I've given my time to work with countless clients, many of them have given me things in return. My client Juan gave me a “Buy One, Get One” free card for Cheesie’s, which I was super pumped about until I noticed it had expired 2 years ago. Fernando gave me a very difficult Spanish test every time he mumbled on the phone. Luisa gave me a smelly hug. Jessica gave me a bottle of women's lotion. Mario gave me his life, when he promised he wouldn't kill himself. Linda gave me tacos from El Milagro, which, speaking of small yet beautiful miracles. If someone asked me to present them with everything I'd received at work this year, I wouldn't have much to show, since I ate the tacos in about 2 seconds. But the real gift that I have received this year is a better understanding of what it means to help. Helping is not just an action, it's a state of being. It's a community that we choose to enter in to once we learn, whether it's from our faith, from economics, from wherever, just how much we stand to gain by doing so.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

The following is a Lenten reflection written by Caitlin Kerwin, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

As I walked home from work, I noticed a man sitting on the curb. I honestly don’t know if I would have paid him any attention if he didn’t shout “I’m hungry, ma’am!” Having lived in Chicago for a few months at this point I wasn't surprised by this man, but he did startle me a bit. I responded to him quickly saying “Sorry, Lakeview Pantry is right down the road.” This did not seem to satisfy him as he said “I’m from Birmingham, Alabama and I don’t have I.D.” Now, this really would not have prevented him from receiving food, but at the time I was not very informed. I still did not know how to help, so I responded with a “Sorry” and kept walking down the street. God has a funny way of pulling at our heart strings, so as I stopped at the corner to wait for the ‘walk’ sign I could not help but feel a sense of urgency to think of something that might help this man. I felt somehow connected to him as if it were my responsibility to do something about his hunger. I’m not one to give money to people on the street, but I am one that values food. As many of you may know, I like to eat. I looked back at the man sitting on the curb in front of Subway and started walking toward him reluctantly. I asked him if he wanted a sandwich from Subway and he responded “Yes… and can I have a coke too?” I thought why not, I would want one too. The man was very appreciative of the meal and I was on my way.

I saw this man almost every day for the rest of my first year of Amate. At first I didn't know whether to say hi to him or just try to avoid eye contact for fear of him asking for more help. Eventually I got over my pride a little and started smiling at him every day that I walked past. We were connected in some way.

It’s hard to remember my oneness with others and the world when I live in my own bubble. I thought Amate would magically break this bubble and I would have a brand new way of thinking. While Amate has definitely made me more aware of this bubble, it is still a daily struggle to change my way of thinking and break the bubble I have a tendency to live in. We have a responsibility to one another, from the begging man sitting on the road to the housemate sitting on the couch. It is our job as people to help each other carry the many crosses we have in our lives and to realize we are also carrying the same cross.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

The following is a Lenten reflection written by Skylar Joseph, one of this year's South House Volunteers.

“The weight is unbearable. Jesus falls under it. How could he enter our lives completely without surrendering to the crushing weight of the life of so many on this earth! He lies on the ground and knows the experience of weakness beneath unfair burdens. He feels the powerlessness of wondering if he will ever be able to continue. He is pulled up and made to continue.”

When I heard this passage for the first time, I felt an immediate connection to it. I know that I could relate to the feeling of falling, and not knowing how I would be able to gather the strength to go on. And while my struggles have obviously been different than that of Jesus on his journey to face his crucifixion, I have still faced moments of powerlessness and struggle, as I’m sure we all have.

When I think of this passage, two moments in my life specifically stand out to me, of where I have been in a situation of falling beneath the weight of whatever burden I am carrying.

The first moment is from my senior year of college. During my senior year I had overburdened myself with too many challenging courses, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and multiple part time jobs. Because of all of these responsibilities I had taken on, I often found myself extremely overwhelmed, and frequently reached the point to where I felt that I could no longer continue to carry everything that I was burdened with. However, regardless of how discouraged I got, I always kept going.

When I would feel overwhelmed by my course load, overburdened by homework, and would feel my grades slipping, all I wanted to do was to give up, not go to class, not do my work, but whenever this would happen, one of my professors would reach out to me, and encourage me to keep trying my best, to keep working hard; they would remind me that I am intelligent, and can overcome the difficulties, and they would always offer me help, and this sign of caring would motivate me to keep going. They believed in me, even when I didn't.

My second example comes from this year. I know that it was probably foolish to think that this year would be a lot easier than it has been, but after how crazy my senior year was, a year of service where I would only be working one job, would have no classes, and would only have community events a couple nights a week, seemed, on paper, like it would be a breeze. However, this experience has been much more difficult than I anticipated, especially in the past couple months.

The site I am serving at has been going through some transitions; specifically, those who have been transitioning in and out, have been my direct supervisors. As a result, I, as well as other year of service volunteers at my site, have been burdened with many more responsibilities than we had at the beginning of the year. These responsibilities have also come with a lot less help and support, due to the fact that our new supervisors must go through the proper trainings and transitions before they become familiar enough with the work to be able to actually help us. Because of this situation of becoming overburdened once again, many days I feel again like I am falling beneath the weight of all of the burdens I try to carry. And unfortunately, this feeling does not just stay with me at work, it follows me home, affecting all other aspects of my life.

But I continue on. I still get up and go to work in the morning, I still work hard at my job, even when I feel like I want to quit. And if someone was to ask me, “Why?”, I would tell them this: “I care about the girls that I work with every day. I have gotten to know them, and now I have a vested interest in their lives. I care about how they do in school, I care about the goals that they share with me, and even though I only see each group of girls I coach for only 90 minutes once a week, I am still hopeful that I am able to make that 90 minutes special for each of my girls. I am motivated to keep going, because I want to continue to make an impact in the lives of these girls. I want to be like the teachers who helped me to succeed in school, by being a similar presence for the girls. I want to encourage them to reach toward their goals, to help them keep their hopes and dreams alive, because it is all too easy to become discouraged, to think our dreams are unattainable, and I don’t want that to happen to the girls I work with, and so this motivates me to keep working hard at my job, so that I am able to continue to make an impact on the lives of the girls I coach.”

We all experience moments in our lives where we feel like we cannot continue to move forward, and yet many of us do. We continue because something or someone is usually there to motivate us, to pull us up and keep us going, just as Jesus was pulled up and made to continue at this point in his journey. Sometimes it is us who need to be pulled up in order to continue, and sometimes we need to be there to pull others up so that they are able to continue to move forward in their lives. We all must overcome hurdles, both great and small, in order to get where we are supposed to go. And each time we are able to push through and carry on when we don’t know how, we are moving ourselves one step closer to accomplishing what we are meant to do in our lives.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Conversation with Fr. Michael Pfleger

Hi everyone,

At this past week's Community Night, we were honored to be joined by Fr. Michael Pfleger, the Senior Pastor of St. Sabina Parish. Fr. Pfleger shared some incredible stories about his upbringing on the south side of Chicago, how he got involved with the civil rights movement, and how that helped fuel his passion for faith and social justice. Our two most recent podcast installments include recordings of our evening with Fr. Pfleger: