This past Sunday, the Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity spent the day in service to the poor, serving a meal at St. Charles Borromeo Parish on Detroit's east side. It is always an interesting adventure. The Parish volunteers flow in and out of the kitchen as the meal is being prepared. The kitchen, by the way, is a transformed classroom with old blackboards still hanging in place behind the freezers. The lasagna is placed in the oven, salads are tossed and refrigerated, and dessert cakes are cut and made ready.
After mass, the good people come down to the basement and are seated waiting for grace to be said prior to the meal.
As the people filter into the seating area there is a loud voice shouting to any and all that might break the rules "TAKE OFF YOUR HAT". It is extremely disruptive to hear and not very welcoming. It reminds me of an experience I had at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi a short time ago. As I wandered in amazement looking at the frescoes on the ceilings and walls, there was a friar seated in a place of authority using a microphone within the sacred space saying, "SILENCIO-SILENCIO". I guess he wanted silence in the Basilica and yet he was making much more noise keeping everybody quiet than the pilgrims were making as they wandered the basilica in awe of Giotto's work! The friar had a job to do and by heaven he was going to do it. The same could be said for the help at St. Charles--yelling across the room for the one or two people that wandered in out of the cold rain to take off their hats--that was their job. They had the authority and by golly they were going to use it. I, however, found the events in both locations disconcerting. unwelcoming, and an obstacle to intimacy and relationship.
All the while, everyone was being seated and grace was quickly said. A line was formed and the people were fed. For our part, we did what we were asked to do, exactly how we were asked to do it; yet there was something missing for me. The long serving table created a dividing point, a barrier. We were on one side of the table and they (the guests) were on the other. There was no opportunity for dialogue and relationship--not much time even for a smile to be shared. We were not able to be brother and sister one to another. In fact, when we were done serving, we (the fraternity) took our food into the kitchen and sat and ate together. Again we were separated from the people, within a walled space. All in all, it was a very sanitized experience. These were for the most part our sisters and brothers that had just left the Table of the Lord having received his body and blood. We could have gone out and sat with those we were serving, but it did not happen. In this regard, we as a fraternity have some work to do. Yes we served/fed the hungry. But we failed to step through our own isolation, failed to step through the walls that were created to maintain order and break bread. We did not celebrate; we were not Eucharist with the people that were present.
Did we actually fail at anything? No not really!
It was a wonderful and enjoyable experience. We as a fraternity are continuing to step out of our comfort zones. Trying to give life and action to our vocation. With a bit more experience and a little more help, we will be able to go out to the people and "break bread" with them, quoting Pope Francis, "Creating an opportunity of encounter".
From our Rule of Life
AS the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.
Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.
Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.....
With great joy we will struggle to do this alone and this ministry most certainly cannot be accomplished in fraternal isolation, behind any kind of barrier (table) that separates us. Putting a serving of lasagna on a plate is a good beginning. But it is only a first step in a journey of admitting and overcoming our own fear, distrust, and prejudice. To be truly alive, truly loving and caring, we must continue to step out into the unknown as we seek "To encounter the living and active person of Christ in our brothers and sisters...." (Article 5, Rule of Life). This is our call to conversion and a continuing challenge, becoming people joyfully recognizing and encountering our God in each other and in our sisters and brothers.