Monday, January 30, 2012

Going Without

Let me tell you about dinner at St. Michael Friary. Just about every other evening, when we go off script to improvise the grace before or after meals, we call on God to help us remember those who go without food while we enjoy our abundance of good things to eat.

Tonight I had about 250 people to remember in prayer while dining on whitefish and pasta, tomato and squash, peas and carrots, salad, and apple pie and strawberry gelatin.

The plumbing failed at Neighbors Together this afternoon, leaving us without hot water. According to the city health code, we could not serve our hot food without having hot water for the serving stations that keep prepared foods warm. So we cancelled dinner.

Was there nothing else we could do? Couldn't we serve sandwiches instead? Maybe we didn't have the groceries for 250 sandwiches, but surely we could buy them, no? Or does the city have a rule against that, too?

Perhaps we were being too cautious. Perhaps we did have the latitude but decided not to make a way out of no way. But I shouldn't talk -- my eye is full of splinters. I don't know the city health regulations governing emergency food programs, and I should be the last to question a decision made by the kitchen crew and staff. Still -- was there nothing else we could do?

Just another day in the neighborhood. Good people coming up short in the city. I have a hundred days of postulancy left, a hundred more days in Brooklyn. I've never gone hungry, and I know I'll never go without enough food while I remain here. Sometimes it seems like I don't even live in East New York at all.

Sometimes? That's too much.

In formation I am getting plenty of practice in fraternity and contemplation, two of our leading charisms. I get to practice ministry and scratch the itch of injustice now and then. But when and how will I live into our major charism of minority? How do I do this when right now I can go downstairs and behold a fully stocked pantry and three refrigerator-freezers? If I wait until vows to practice minority, it will be too late.

The worst part about this afternoon is that I could not feel what it felt like for the others to be turned away with nothing for the evening. Couldn't even remotely sense it. Didn't even try to talk to anyone about how they felt; I was squirreled in my office making lesson plans. I was afraid to go out and talk, to tell you the truth. What could a well-fed volunteer say of consolation? Today, I had nothing to give. A failure of nerve, again. I have no right to claim moral high ground because I could not find the way to show compassion.

With many saints it has been otherwise, but for Francis of Assisi, he could not live with himself having material goods as if he had them not. It was not enough to sympathize for the poor. He had to become like the poor. He had to become hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, captive, beaten, defeated. He had to go without in order to go with the God of Jesus Christ.

But see, there's a big difference between Francis and me. I would become a minor to keep my conscience clear. Francis became a minor because he wanted to become like Christ. Oh, Lord, rid me of rationalizations!

God, I said it before and I will say it again: burst my bubble. Pierce my pretensions. Help me get over myself and my guilt over material security so I can truly live the way of a lesser brother, a life freed in minority for radical hospitality. Show me how to go without and enter into the presence of God within us, beyond us, near us.

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