Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

The following is a reflection about the fourteenth station of the cross prepared by Chris Huben, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Chris is working at Cabrini Green Legal Aid and he shared his story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

As you walk around Chicago, there will be no sounds of nails being hammered into wood. You will not hear someone crying out in agony because nails are being sent through their hands and feet. You will not see a man hanging from tree forgiving those who put him up there. You will not see a gruesome sight like this. However, though not identical to this exact sight, every day I witness something very similar to this, and I am confident that everyone witnesses these events. If one does not see them, then they must look harder.

Everyday heading to work on the train, I change from the Clark and Lake orange line train to the blue line. I've noticed a middle aged woman with no legs sitting in a wheelchair. After seeing her on multiple occasions, I decided to make conversation with her. Miss Shirley has become one of my new best friends. Even though sometimes she calls me Mike, sometimes she is able to remember my name.

I have never met someone like Miss Shirley. It is extremely difficult to make conversation with her. Most of the conversations end with her crying and looking down to the ground and not saying anything else to me. Miss Shirley has been nailed to the cross. Suffering from drug addiction, no home, and most of all, a lack of love. Thousands of people walk by her each week, and only a fraction give her any attention.

Mother Teresa once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Each time someone walks by Miss Shirley, the nails are being driven even deeper. When the crowds of hurried passengers ignore her humanity, the pain from hanging on the cross becomes even sharper. When Christ was on the cross, this was the last of his suffering. He remained there until he breathed his last. Miss Shirley, right now, is hanging on the cross, and it seems as if she has given up.
Chris shares his reflection at the McKinley Park Stations of the Cross reflection night. 
Miss Shirley told me that she loves Milky Ways, so I purchased some from CVS. The next time I saw her, I was so excited to give her one. However, Miss Shirley would barely look up. She did not understand what it meant to receive a gift. I don’t even think she thanked me. She simply took the candy and the conversation slowly dwindled. Have you ever been in so much pain that no compliment or act of kindness could even bring the slightest bit of comfort? The nails are very deep and the period of hanging on the cross is becoming a harder and harder.

As Christ hung on the cross, He cried out, “Father why have you abandoned me.” I can hear the echoes of this agonizing shout as I look into the eyes of Miss Shirley.

Lord, we pray that you give us the eyes to see those who are nailed down to the cross. Give us the grace to find them and try to bring them comfort. We are weak though Lord, and we need your grace to do good. We beg you now to send the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might become filled with a burning desire to bring comfort and love to everyone we meet, for in doing that, we are loving you. Help us to set aside our selfishness and tend to the brokenhearted and those in pain. Instill in our minds an understanding that these actions are not done so that others might think highly of us, but because you loved us first and we want to respond to that love.

Jesus Falls for the Second Time

The following is a reflection about the seventh station of the cross prepared by Gina Bartindale, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Gina is working as a nurse at Erie Family Health Center and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

Even with help, Jesus falls and stumbles to the ground a second time, under the weight of the cross. There he lay, face down in the dirt, sweat dripping from his brow, reopening the bloody cuts on his knees. Oh, what he would do to have it all just end here; but he is only halfway to Calvary. 

Reflecting on this station, I can’t help but imagine Señora Lupe, weighed down by the weight of injustice and suffering; the broken systems in this country cause her to fall once again. Her five year old son has special needs and receives care at the clinic I work at, Erie Family Health. She is a single mom who migrated to the US illegally several years ago. She is going to court next week, at risk of deportation back to Mexico. Lupe knows that her son’s medical needs are complex and that he needs to remain here in the states to receive adequate care for him. She sits in the exam room with tears in her eyes as she asks my favorite pediatrician if she will be her son’s guardian if she has to leave him.

Lupe is weighed down by poverty, a frustrating healthcare system, a language barrier, racism, the legal system… how could anyone remain standing under all that weight? Other patients have similarly fallen under different injustices and suffering that absolutely break my heart some days. I think of the parents who recently arrived from a refugee camp in Myanmar where they were highly persecuted; after arriving at our clinic with their newborn baby, we struggle to even find an interpreter that can speak their rare language of Rohingya. A teenage, homeless mom is weighed down by cyclical poverty and mental illness. She tells me she feels like a failure, falling deeper into depression, when her 6-month-old baby is hospitalized with pneumonia.

These patients have all fallen onto their knees, exhausted, face down in the dust like Jesus, a demoralizing message to them that they are just that: dust in the wind. And while we are all mortal and will return to dust one day, my time as an Amate House nurse has confirmed my belief that it is our calling as humans on Earth to remind one another of our dignity. We are all so much more than dust; we are all humans worthy of love and respect because we are made from the same dust, in the same image of Jesus Christ.

There have been so many phone calls or appointments this year where I honestly felt helpless. I can recommend home remedies for a patient’s cough or teach a new diabetic how to use their insulin, but I rarely have the opportunity or the knowledge to address the deeper injustices or broken systems that are affecting and weighing down my patients. I often try to recall a phrase from the Oscar Romero prayer that gives me encouragement: It says “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

Gina shares her Stations reflection at St. Maurice Church in McKinley Park.
So I have been slowly learning that the “something” I can do and am perhaps am called to do is give patients dignity through accompaniment; I still have a ways to go until I reach that doing it “very well” part. I can listen to a patient on the phone vent about topics unrelated to her health. Or I can sit with a patient during a home visit and let her just cry about her new, scary diagnosis of stomach cancer. I can give patients dignity by being present. In return, my patients’ perseverance and strength inspires and teaches me daily.

I believe we are called to come next to our brothers and sisters when they are fallen to help them carry the weight of their crosses and burdens—not for each other, but with each other, lifting them out of the dust.

I have had my own share of falls this year in community: anxiety, exhaustion, Durango breakdowns, and literal falls on my tailbone. In the last couple of months, I have realized that I must let others--especially those in my community-- help carry my crosses; when I lean on them, they are always there to hold me up. Recently, when I was feeling helpless about an old pal struggling with homelessness and lack of faith, my own faith felt fickle. I expressed to a housemate that I didn’t see the point in even praying for her anymore. He texted me every day and night for the next week when he was praying for my friend since he knew I didn’t have the energy. He was a true prayer warrior for both of us, accompanying and re-energizing me and my faith. What a gift to have other people to walk beside us and lift us up, if we let them-- and maybe even lend a cute piece of clothing or bring us a cup of coffee along with it.

When Jesus falls for the second time, He is even more discouraged and broken than the first. The weight of the cross feels even heavier, thinking about how much farther he still has to go. But the hope of the 7th station is that while he falls again, he also gets up again. He keeps going. And he keeps going all the way to Calvary for Señora Lupe, for the refugee parents, for the homeless teen mom, for me, and for each and every one of us here. In the dust and mess of injustice and suffering, there is still hope.

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The following is a reflection about the sixth station of the cross prepared by Leslie Carandang, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Leslie is working at Catholic Charities Southwest Regional Office and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

Because of Amate House, the phrase “love in action” is frequently heard around here, and it was the phrase that first came into my mind with this Station of the Cross. Here, Veronica wipes Jesus’ bloody, sweaty face, a seemingly small gesture towards an individual experiencing deep suffering and hardship and a demonstration of her love for him through her actions. On a personal level, reflecting on Veronica’s small act of love has allowed me to recall how small gestures have served as expressions of love throughout my Amate year, both in my community and at my site placement.

Undoubtedly, I have felt loved by my community members through their seemingly small gestures towards me. Sometimes the act of love seems very small – a surprise Take 5 candy bar bought for me, an unexpected hug, a mug of coffee (with a straw of course) brought to my room. Other times, the small gesture seems a little grander because at the time I was struggling with something or otherwise suffering. For example, one morning before work, I was in a horrible mood and clearly unable to disguise it. I put my head down on the kitchen table, feeling defeated and uncertain of how I was going to make it through the entire day feeling so low. Unprompted, one of my housemates came over to me and stood by me, and she stroked my hair for a few moments. She did not know the specifics as to what was wrong, but she did not need to. She was just there.
Or, as another example, back in December, I had a mild medical episode where I felt like I had something stuck in my throat, and I ended up having difficulties breathing. I turned to one of my housemates for her input, but she was stumped too and unsure of what to suggest or do to help me best as I was struggling. However, she drove me through a snowstorm on a Sunday afternoon to urgent care. This gesture – driving me, staying with me, teaching me to use my new inhaler later – seemed rooted in compassion and truly made me feel loved.

I believe in a God who loves all of humanity in a way that is so vast and unconditional. Relatedly, I believe that God works through people to demonstrate this love for each of us. So, to me, each small gesture from someone in my life that makes me feel loved in turn feels like God working through that person to remind me and show me how much he loves me. Remembering how God loves me, and recognizing his demonstration of that love for me through people placed throughout my life, calls me to act in a particular way, especially at my site placement.
Leslie shares her Stations of the Cross reflection at St. Maurice church in McKinley Park.
I strive to be a loving person towards the people I interact with at Catholic Charities. Acting lovingly towards the people who walk through our door does not happen through dramatic actions or drastic measures to radically transform their current situations; most of the time, I’m not even in a position to act in such a way. Instead, I focus on the little things that I can do to love the person right in front of me, particularly when that person has come to my office under precarious and complicated circumstances. The philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little,” and I channel that mentality often.

To that end, I see the bags of food I hand out to clients at Casa Catalina on Tuesdays, the box of Kleenex that I’ll slide across my desk toward a client who is crying, the thirty minutes I’ll occasionally spend quizzing someone for an immigration test they still don’t know if they’re ultimately going to take – all as small gestures of love. And sometimes I like to think that maybe my clients will have a similar reflection down the road – a thought like, “You know, that was nice,” and they will feel the warmth of God’s love for them because of some kindness I showed them or something I did, just like how I have felt God’s love myself through my housemates’ kindness towards me. Most of the time, I have no idea though if my actions truly have this effect, but I am grateful to have a handful of stories that have given me a glimpse of the effect of which I’m speaking.

For instance, one day, someone I’ve known for a while came by with her husband because they needed assistance filling out all of this paperwork to apply for social security because of his disability. They speak mainly Spanish, and this paperwork was pages and pages of questions… of course only available in English. So, I offered to be the person who would sit with them and work through it. I stumbled through translations at times, and the longer we worked and the more stories he told me about the reality of his injuries, the more invested I became, and I found myself wishing I could do more to alleviate his pain; my efforts at completing this highly-official governmental form seemed trivial at most.  Classic me – when we finally finished, I apologized that it took so long, feeling like I had inconvenienced them; this was probably not how they had hoped to spend their morning. However, I was kindly told that I was mistaken. Because of his disability that leaves him so dependent on others, he usually spends the days by himself while his wife is at work. He told me that he found our three hours working together through this paperwork to be a blessing in his day because for once, his day was not spent feeling so lonely. This small deed – some paperwork and some presence – appeared to have had a positive impact and perhaps was enough.

Veronica’s action in this Station of the Cross is a classic small gesture of love. She could not change Jesus’ circumstances, similar to how my housemates/friends often can’t change mine and how I often can’t change those of my clients at Catholic Charities. Perhaps, though, that’s not even what living out the love of God is asking of us. I see it more as loving people where they are, as they are, and I think that’s what Veronica did for Jesus. She recognized what she could do – a small act out of love – and she did it confidently. For my community, my clients at work, and myself, I think that’s what we’re all doing in being there for each other too.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Jesus Takes Up His Cross

The following is a reflection about the second station of the cross prepared by Laura LeBrun, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Laura is working at Perspectives High School of Technology in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

From the Gospel according to Matthew. 27:27-31

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

To a random passerby, Jesus may have seemed to deserve such punishment. Who is this “King of the Jews” who acts as though he deserves special treatment? On the surface, He seems self-indulgent, self-righteous, and even borderline heretic. If one does not venture further into Jesus’ story, He seems worthy of the punishment set upon Him.

Likewise, when one thinks of the youth in impoverished schools, they tend to take things at the surface level. These kids are lazy. They don’t care. They’ll never amount to much. As time goes on, even though I can get frustrated with their behavior, I realize that, like Jesus, these teenagers cannot be defined through broad generalizations. The parallels between their lives are striking. My students are born into this world with their lives defined. Jesus did not choose to be the Son of God; however, he took up His cross, even when it resulted in His death. My students didn’t choose to grow up surrounded by poverty, violence, emotional and physical struggles, and many other debilitating characteristics. Despite their burden, however, they take up their cross, even when that cross is challenging beyond what most people can imagine. Through birth, the framework of their lives is decided.

In 2016, sixteen-year-old Pierre Loury was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer as he evaded them by jumping a fence. Pierre’s story was brought to me when a student wrote about being friends with Loury in a class assignment. I pored over news articles about him, wondering how a child could end up in such a situation. For Pierre, though he grew up in North Lawndale, was very similar to the teens I interact with on a daily basis. He was not perfect; he had juvenile court records, smoked marijuana, ditched class, and had a heroin charge by fifteen. Looking at the surface level, Pierre may have, to some, seemed deserving of such a death. But upon reading testaments from his friends and family, I struggle to accept this sentiment. At sixteen, he got a tattoo to memorialize a fellow gang member who was slain. His younger siblings looked up to him, and he loved making up rhymes and listening to music. One of his friends commented, “I want him to be remembered as someone who loved and cared about everyone. And even though he wasn’t the best kid, he had the best heart.”

Turning to the gang life isn’t an ideal solution, but for kids in some Chicago communities, gang life is necessary for survival. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Judge Michael Toomin, who presides over Cook County’s juvenile court system, notes “[Kids] turn to gangs because gangs give them friends, give them some structure, give them protections…”

Laura reads her reflection on the second station at St. Maurice Church in McKinley Park.
On the surface level, joining a gang doesn’t make sense. Deeper down, it is a cross given simply by being born into the wrong neighborhood. Like Jesus, they carry this cross without complaint. And like Jesus, they may be mocked and dismissed as thugs, worthless, and underserving by those who do not understand.

I have been fortunate enough to experience many joys with my students. Through my experience as an On Track and High School Completion Coach in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, I have learned to look beyond these gang members (although, I will admit I was nervous at first) and see the wonderful young adults they truly are. They continue to teach me to look deeper, even now. The other day, my student was explaining to me about how he did not want to go to school when he casually added, “I got shot at.” He didn’t even add punctuation; just “I didn’t want to go I got shot at yesterday.” In my casual, I’m-a-teacher-so-I-technically-can’t-acknowledge-that-you’re-in-a-gang voice, I inquired, “Well, was what you were doing legal?” He responded, “But you don’t get it, you don’t abandon your brothers when they’re getting shot at.”

He’s right. I don’t get it, for I did not grow up in this neighborhood, in this life, in this sense of poverty, where crime can emerge even while you are walking home from school. My cross is different than theirs, but like them, I need to take up my cross, even if my teacher doesn’t understand, even if the general public doesn’t understand, even if I am being mocked and stripped and crucified. For by taking up your cross, even when you are the only one that knows the good that comes from it, you are teaching everyone around you how to live.

These are your brothers. You can’t abandon them. You just need to pick up that cross and persevere through those struggles for the sake of others, no matter what these struggles are. My precious child: I wish you weren’t on the streets, but I love that you are willing to express compassion and love, no matter what cross you were born to carry.