At first, most of our community thought it was strange to postpone Opening Retreat and Orientation until we'd all been here at least three weeks. By the time it arrived, however, we agreed that it provided a welcome time to be refreshed and reminded why we are here.
Our opening retreat took place at Camp Dewan in Wisconsin. We got to see open spaces and look at stars again for the first time since moving to Chicago. We spent time discussing and reflecting on the four key values that Franciscan Outreach Volunteers seeks to instill in us during our volunteer year: simple living, service, community and spirituality. It was a good opportunity for our group to get on the same page about these things and share our hearts about them. We read from the Gospels and other Catholic figures. Jesus and Dorothy Day echoed a lot of what I think many of us have either already been thinking or need to hear. I was particularly struck by the passage from the latter; when talking about poverty, she said, "maybe it is a grace which [we] must pray for." To think about poverty as a state that we should seek in our own lives feels very foreign to me coming from my largely comfortable life. Having encountered so many people in the past month, however, who live with so little every day, I'm starting to try to understand what they have that I don't without risking self-righteous presumption. The readings started the thinking process, at least.
|Hand washing at the Opening Retreat|
The retreat also provided many lighter times to simply enjoy being together as a group. We went to a Cub's game, thanks to a generous donation (and they won!), and later took part in a volunteer gathering with several other programs from around the city. It was a good opportunity to find out about the work other people our age are doing in Chicago and start making connections outside Franciscan Outreach.
Orientation was very informative and gave our community a broader perspective on realities that our homeless population has to face on a regular basis. We heard from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, St. Leonard's Ministries, and the Br. David Darst Center. Each of these groups shared stories from men who were formerly homeless or presented situations that often apply to the people we serve, whether they involve mental illness, addictions, or incarceration. It made me see many of our guests in a different light as I thought about what I've heard of their experiences.
Father Chuck Faso also came to teach us about St. Francis and how Franciscans continue to embody his spirit in the modern world. We talked of peace and how we can show it to our guests in our own home every day. Father Chuck also led us in Mass at the end of the day. We passed the peace together with hugs and blessings, and read from John about how Jesus is our very food and drink. Fr. Chuck's homily echoed for me an important sentiment from a Walker Percy novel about how the main character had to "eat Christ" to inhabit his own flesh and love the people around him. I think that sharing the Presence together was a good reminder for us that we embody Christ in ourselves inasmuch as we feed His sheep with meals and grace.
|Banner near the entrance of the Marquard Center|
I'm thankful that we had some time to dive into volunteer life and settle into the Marquard Center before officially kicking things off, because instead of just getting more information about "the homeless problem," I was learning how to understand the guests I've been getting to know for the past month. I wasn't being commissioned with some amorphous, self-righteous goal to evangelize the lost, but rather receiving grace that I can now give to my new brothers and sisters as they come and go through my door. It seems like a pretty good way to start my year as a Franciscan.