Photo Friday: Sarah Meets Detroit

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Photo taken by Ben Stevinson of  Sarah Peraud who wrote the following reflection on her Spring Break trip to Detroit.

I had the absolute privilege to spend my spring break in Detroit with 5 amazing people living with the Daughters of Charity and exploring different service sites.

Detroit is terrifying. Everywhere we drove we saw houses burned down. We saw people living, selling drugs, surviving on the streets. There was a lot of darkness, a lot of pain.  God was very hard to find.

But, I discovered Detroit is possibly the most hopeful place in the world.

Detroit used to be motor city, a city built on machines and industry. That was quickly taken away. Detroit was stripped. The bones of the city stand as testament to a world and industry that sucked out their marrow and then turned away.

There are no more factories. There are no shiny new cars rolling out from shiny warehouses and factories.

It is the people that make Detroit now. When I met those people, God became evident. When I opened my heart to loving God became inevitable.

I met a boy who, although homeless, just graduated high school wants to go to college and law school and move back to fight for Detroit. I met a child who wants to study fashion and who has the voice of the old Mo-Town greats. I met two homeless teenagers who had found love in each other. I heard an ex-addict talk about the power of poetry. I head volunteers speak with the utmost respect and welcome to the people who walked through their soup kitchen lines.  I saw grafitti everywhere, testament to artists still willing to put their name, their art, their mark on this city.

Repeatedly, after telling us about the cold and destitute situations they were dedicating their lives to people would say, “But things are looking up.”

“Detoit is a phoenix rising.”

“Detroit is a diamond in the rough.”

Over and over again, I heard, “We are a diamond in the rough.”

Detroit is a diamond in the rough. The rough is tougher than most, darker, thicker than most. There is certainly a lot of work to be done, and we are nowhere near finished. But hope is easy to find when the diamonds shine this bright.

I cannot wait to go back.

The Eucharist and Solidarity

I know Cortina and the Creighton community are full of many different faiths and denominations.  I’m going to speak a lot about Eucharist in the Roman Catholic sense as the real body and blood of Christ.  However, it’s my hope that this reflection will be relevant to you wherever you are on your faith journey.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting with my provincial (the man who oversees all the Jesuits in my region) and talking about actions.  I have a great desire to “do.”  I’m in pretty constant motion.  The hardest part of this vocation to the Jesuits has been sitting still and prayer every day.  Not to mention the thirty-day silent retreat.  But as I’ve matured, I’ve realized that praying is doing.  “Pray” is a verb after all.  It is indeed an action.

In my prayer, I’ve realized that going to Mass is both an act of and deepening of my solidarity.  I want to focus on just the actual Eucharist, though.  It can be easier to find solidarity in the readings—Jesus proclaiming the Beatitudes is hard to miss.  But what about the Eucharist itself?  Three things stand out—Christ on the cross; participating in the Eucharist; and sharing an act of faith.

Sometimes Mass can feel stuffy, tightly bound by the ritual and rite of it.  But the real story in the Eucharist is astounding.  Here’s a dude who is God.  He participates in everything human.  He doesn’t have to, but he does.  He gets hungry, happy, joyful, sorrowful, thirsty, angry, tired, tempted, and killed.  He didn’t just participate in human life, though.  He participated in the oppressed life.  He shunned every expectation of fearless military leader and revolutionary.  More revolutionary, he gave himself up to die a slave’s death.  And it wasn’t a polite one.  We often see the Passion plays lightly, sanctified.  The Eucharist is about a man who was mob lynched.  They came out and found him in the night, dragging him away.  The justice system wasn’t going how some folks wanted, so they essentially made it happen themselves.  It’s painful, gruesome.  I can imagine no greater act of solidarity.  And we saw this same love and participation in the lives of the poor from all the great martyrs.  From Oscar Romero, to Jean Donovan, to Dietrich Bonheoffer.  I participate in solidarity remembering all these stories, these beautiful people who gave all they could to love and to serve.  Whenever I receive the Eucharist, I tell myself, “Lord, let me grow in love and solidarity.”

I actively participate in the Eucharist.  I engage it.  And I share it with those around me.  But I share it with billions of Catholics around the world.  And I honestly believe that I share it with those who are not Catholic.  I go to the Eucharist praying for greater solidarity, hope and love.  That love extends to everyone in the world, especially the oppressed and downtrodden.  I go to the Eucharist as an act of radical love to destroy oppression.  I do not have many ways of participating in the lives of the oppressed around the world, but this is one that I can positively do every day.  The greatest gift I have ever received is a meal with others.  This is a meal at a global table.

Finally, I believe it is an act of solidarity because it is participation in faith.  There are certainly many throughout the world who espouse no faith and many who have different faith.  But I act with you in praying with and for you.  I do not approach this prayer as a simple requirement of the week, but as a way of truly placing my heart near yours.  My body is far, but my spirit resides with the oppressed.  It is an act of presence.

This weekend, a good friend invited me to come to New Jersey to be present.  I would normally choose to work, to use what I would consider ample muscle to move stones, break up debris and clean up the wreckage.  But Jim has asked me to simply be present with people.  After the tragedy of Sandy, the people simply want some symbol of faith.  I’ve never knowingly been someone’s symbol of faith or a person to listen to strangers after tragedy.  But guided by the Eucharist, I will go to listen and to love.  I will go to Mass with people and participate in their salvation, and them in mine.

-Br. Ken Homan, SJ