By Fr. Kevin Mohan
DiPaul & Shea
Last month, one of my go-to Catholic bloggers, Mark Shea, quipped, “Instead of Cafeteria Catholicism, I prefer All You Can Eat Catholicism.” I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite catchphrases of the late Larry DiPaul. Shea’s phrase reminded me of how Larry would point out the common excuse that “there’s a lot on my plate” and in response would wonder, “How big is your plate? Is it a salad plate? A coffee saucer?”
Asked to offer grace before meals at this year’s Justice for All Dinner, the two quotes came together in classic Ampersand fashion. Here in the Diocese of Camden, we have a lot on our plates. Two of the poorest cities in our nation are members of our Diocese. But, we also have many gifts for use in the face of those full plates. “All-You-Can-Eat Catholicism” is a great image for the work of Catholic Charities.
Grace Before Full Plates
Almighty God, thank you for putting a lot on our plates. Thank you for making it harder and harder these days to avoid the people we encounter on the street and in the mirror – the poor and the sick, the distressed and depressed – and for nourishing us with your presence there in distressing disguises. Thank you for giving us big plates, great big appetites to serve, to engage, and to love. Thank you for the gifts you give us in your Spirit to serve your church and your world; increase your gifts in us.
As we consider these plates before us, soon to be obscured by food, help us to appreciate what you ask us to do, to see how you bless us in the fullness of our plates, and to increase our generosity toward the people you place in our way. We offer you our lives as readily as we accept our portion of food. As we sate our appetites, reveal to us our hunger for you, and remind us that our lives and our plates are made for your glory: to be filled and cleaned so as to be filled again. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Fr. Kevin Mohan is parochial vicar at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Williamstown.
Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founding director of Aquinas Center, which is located on the campus of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community in the heart of South Philadelphia. The former convent is being re-purposed as a space to foster mutual support and shared understanding. Parishioners and guests come together to express hospitality, promote education, and engage in service. In her column, Bethany reflects on a prayer service for peace in Syria she organized this past Saturday.
I think prayer changed the course of history last night.
One billion Catholics, and all people of good will, were asked by Pope Francis to fast and pray for peace in Syria on Saturday, September 7th. I was compelled to heed the call of this Jesuit pontiff who practices an active expression of faith that encourages global dialogue. I chose an hour when the AquinasCenter chapel would be available and with a few keystrokes I shared the date and time via social media. I put the word out to the parish in which our center is situated and to the organization’s supporters.
It was a few hours later when I realized I had no idea how to lead a prayer vigil or what would be involved in doing so in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural community of faith. Thankfully, Ampersand was making resources available for similar gatherings. I was able to adapt the material for the local community, but still remained nervous at my lack of experience in leading public or group prayer with Catholics. By the time I sat in the front pew of the chapel that evening I was sweating and nauseous. I have spoken to an auditorium of 800 people without notes before, but this was very far outside my comfort zone.
At 7:00 pm, the chapel slowly began to fill with parishioners and friends of Aquinas Center. I noticed that many in attendance had already been to a vigil Mass earlier that evening and then returned. Several small children sat on the floor near their parents while very elderly women clustered together. Time had not permitted me to gather translations for readings or prayers in the five different languages present in the room so someone had suggested we pray a decade of the rosary in these languages after each petition for peace. On the spot, lay leaders were recruited to lead a decade. Soon the room filled with overlapping responses in Vietnamese, Indonesian, Spanish, Tagalog, and English. It was a cacophony. It was beautiful.
We moved into silent prayer next. I played three instrumental songs and then stood and turned to address those gathered. The chapel was now overflowing and included people standing in the back. At that moment, it finally hit me that at least three dozen of the sixty or so assembled had experienced war first hand. They had fled oppressive regimes. They had lived in refugee camps. They have known too well the pain of neighbor fighting neighbor, of countrymen attacking one another because of politics and ideology. One of the priests who joined us that night had even been imprisoned because of his faith. He will never be allowed to return to his homeland. One might guess that people in that room were praying as much for Syria as for their family members and loved ones who have been lost in similar conflicts and those who continue to be affected by hatred and violence.
In that moment, I was mortified at how much I had worried about the right prayer or song, whether the music was too loud or not loud enough. Pope Francis asked, in his message at the vigil in Rome on Saturday, “Is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? ” Now tonight, listening to President Obama announce that he was asking Congress to delay a vote on intervention in Syria to allow time to pursue a “diplomatic path”, I am certain that the prayers of those faithful–united with those around the world–has helped change direction.
The delay is one small step and it doesn’t solve the political complexities or rescue the vulnerable, but it does represent a change in direction. May that possibility be sustained. May peace continue to be pursued. May our faith in the powerful, transforming nature of prayer be renewed.
The unofficial summer season gets off to a chilly and breezy start this Memorial Day Weekend after the most challenging, tragic, and tumultuous six months in Jersey Shore history.
Since it became clear in late October that Hurricane Sandy was headed straight for New Jersey, the Diocese of Camden’s Catholic Charities has been tireless in its response to the storm. The work continues steadily today, shifting from relief to recovery.
Statistics provided by Camden’s Catholic Charities are simultaneously sobering and inspiring. It’s heartbreaking to think of so many lives broken. But we are also so proud of the work of Catholic Charities in the face of tragedy. This is what the Church does. This is who we are.
Immediately after the storm, Catholic Charities set up two distribution centers near the shore.
- 136,000 pounds of food and supplies were distributed
- 15,000 individuals were assisted
- 392 volunteers participated
As weeks passed, the response from diocesan parishes and dioceses all over the country was robust:
- Almost $300,000 received in donations from diocesan parishes
- More than $350,000 received from dioceses across the country
- $225,000 spent in assistance
- Over 150 families received financial support
- More than 50 have received case management
The need for recovery work continues. While 31,000 FEMA applications for aid were submitted by residents of the diocese, Catholic Charities estimates 5000 people here will have unmet needs. The storm’s damage to the shore’s robust hospitality industry cost many people jobs — many of whom are undocumented immigrants. (Catholic Charities reports that New Jersey’s proportion of undocumented immigrants in the workforce ranks fifth in the nation.)
The Super Bowl is complicated for me. I love football and fun gatherings, but the celebration always comes with a feeling that the money and fame central to the day don’t quite mesh with any conception of biblical justice.
A few years ago, I discovered this prayer-poem by Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann, included in his book Prayers for a Privileged People. I prayed it the morning of the game, and it helped me keep perspective during the evening. It has become an annual tradition since. I hope it resonates with you as it has with me.
Super Bowl Sunday
By Walter Brueggemann
From Prayers for a Privileged People
The world of fast money,
and loud talk,
and much hype is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.
We will eat and drink,
and gamble and laugh,
and cheer and hiss,
and marvel and then yawn.
We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
and such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
violence within rules,
and money and merchandise and music.
And you—today like every day—
you govern and watch and summon;
you are glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
our litanies of selves made too big,
our fascination with machismo power,
and lust for bodies and for big bucks.
And around you gather today, as every day,
elsewhere uninvited, but noticed acutely by you,
those disabled and gone feeble,
those alone and failed,
those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift if more than “super,”
Overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.
The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
your creatures called to obedience and praise.
Give us some distance from the noise,
some reserve about the loud success of the day,
that we may remember that our life consists
not in things we consume
but in neighbors we embrace.
Be our good neighbor that we may practice
your neighborly generosity all through our needy