Here’s a quote from Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff:
"To adopt the place of the poor is our first deed of solidarity with them. This act is accomplished by making an effort to view reality from their perspective. And when we view reality from their perspective, that reality simply must be transformed."
I turned to Boff this week, looking for help in knowing how to pastor this little group of people whose lives are so heavy with injustice, poverty, work and seemingly intractable problems.
As I preached at Iglesia de San Romero this past week, a sermon I preached at the nursing home and on Sunday at St Romero’s, as well, I watched the faces of the people listening. A preacher can often tell when what they’re saying is hitting home. Eyes light up, heads nod. I love it when that happens. Well, it wasn’t happening this time! My message could be summed up as, “you are special, unique and precious just as you are” and I got the feeling it just wasn’t feeding them. One man sat slumped against the side of a car, the weight of his life almost visible on his shoulders. After Mass he kindly thanked me for coming. My presence – our presence – is worth something just as it is. It’s a sign of hope, proof that they are not absolutely forgotten.
But I was discontented and found myself carrying the question: how does one minister to people in this impossible situation? Our experience of church needs to be more than just frosting in their lives. It needs to be bread for the journey.
So I turned to Leonardo Boff. His book, “When Theology Listens to the Poor,” has a chapter entitled “How Ought We to Celebrate the Eucharist in a World of Injustice?” How do we make the celebration of the Mass itself an act of justice? In that chapter I found this: “true worship of God is realized... in the building of a community of sisters and brothers”
Ultimately it occurred to me that perhaps the way to serve this community is the way one builds any community. Show up! Bring your weakness as well as your strength. Laugh together. Forgive. Hang in there. Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God... and keep working on your Spanish.
Yesterday in Buffalo I found another answer to that question. The guys are in yet another difficult situation, with the government demanding one thing and their boss demanding another. I introduced the guys to the English expression, “between a rock and a hard place.” As we worked to find a solution, I said to the man, “Do you see their predicament?” and he nodded. He is bound by the rules he is upholding, but in that moment I detected a spark of sympathy.
It seems to me that moments like that are as much an experience of church as what we do around the altar. But they would not happen if we were not also gathered around the altar. The food for the soul we receive at Mass is also an invisible thread of caring - a bit of gluten! – that stretches and binds us together. Yeast, we are. Little, hidden – and life-giving. May it be so, may it be so.
Love and light to all
Please join us, any time you like: Sundays at 11 in the city, Thursdays at 8 in the country, leaving St Joe’s at 6:30. Donations of cookies for our social time after Mass are welcome, but what we’d like most is you!
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620