You know what December 6th is, right? The Feast of St Nicholas, the man who threw gold through the window of a house to keep three young women from being sold into slavery. St Nicholas… not to be confused with his modern iteration, the guy we know around here as “Sancho Claus,” who brings toys and all kinds of stuff to people who already have more than they need. This is the saint who used what he had for the freedom and dignity of three people with little power or hope.
How fitting, then, that it was on December 6th that I toured a mobile home that seemed to be a perfect home for our little family. More than clean and safe – it’s well kept, comes with appliances – and costs $24,900. I was so excited! If we were to find a way to buy it, the monthly payments including the lot rent would be less than the cost of renting an apartment.
When I told the guys about it, though, they shook their heads. I told them I believed it might be possible to raise the money, but they said, “not there.” The police in that town have a reputation for harassing Mexicans. They would not feel safe, would feel that they were at risk every time they drove through the town. I have to honor that. Instead we’re going to go look at a place they heard is for rent.
Still… imagine if the church had a house. Imagine if it were a Catholic Worker sort of house, where people could come and be safe, where we could keep some food for folks who might need it, have a resource room for learning English or anything one might want to learn. We could have a community meal sometimes, maybe have Mass there. It would need to be out in the country, not so much on the main drag, someplace people felt safe.
I’m going to keep looking.
Back in the city, we still have Mass on Sunday mornings. (But not Sunday, December 16. I will be in El Salvador, worshiping with the Shekina community in Santa Ana!) On November 25, it finally happened that no one came to Mass. One man did show up, but he wanted a sandwich, so I gave him a sandwich and told him he didn’t have to sit through Mass in order to get it. He thanked me and left. I waited, and prayed, and asked God what to do with the hour. Then another man came to the door. He desperately needed to use the bathroom. I let him in, and when he was done, we sat and talked. He has IBS, he said. Can you imagine having irritable bowel syndrome, and being homeless? I decided that was why I was there that morning – just to let him in.
This past Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, seemed like it was going to be the same. I was explaining to one man why he could not come in: because the last time he was there, he locked himself in the men’s room and refused to leave. Just then another man showed up. “Are you here for church?” I asked, and he said yes, so we celebrated the Mass. He turned out to be a person of deep faith. During the shared part of the homily, he made up a song on the spot, “God uses you,” he sang, “and God uses me.” It was beautiful. There were just two of us, but it was real church.
I hope you are having a peaceful Advent, with lots of time to just be with God and listen. It’s hard to find that kind of time in this busy season, but oh, so important. In my sermon this Sunday I taught a prayer that I learned in the book “The Geography of Grace.” It doesn’t have any words. You start with your hands in that “Praying Hands” position you learned as a child. Then slowly, you open your hands. Open to God, open to what God is calling you to. Hands that say Yes. “The hardest prayer in the world,” it says in the book.
May our little church be whatever God is dreaming. A house, a ministry, more love, more openness. May it be so.
Blessings to you this Advent!
Love and light to all
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620