Finding life beneath the surface 🌰🌱 - February/March 2019 Newsletter
“Welcome, joy, and gratitude.” In January, we used these three words to introduce Benincasa to the students from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Nine members of the XU community joined us for their annual Dorothy Day Immersion, an alternative break social justice centered experience designed by our friend Shannon Hughes. It was the fourth year Xavier students joined us for workshops, prayer, community life, meals, and shifts at the Catholic Worker. We were nourished as ever by their kindness, enthusiasm, and curiosity.
After Xavier’s departure, the Daniel Berrigan Center for Art and Activism welcomed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Alliance for Fair Food. They returned yet again to faithfully enter into another year of demanding corporations, like Wendy’s, sign onto the Fair Food Program to ensure a fair price for tomatoes and, therefore, wages for farmworkers. It is always our great honor to spend time with these friends, attend their actions and events, and see the strength of their work and witness.
Our Through Every Age lay-formation program is rolling along with the twelve brilliant people comprising the inaugural cohort participating in our second retreat during mid-December. For all of us struggling with the hierarchical structures of church, the chance to come together in study, contemplation, conversation, and action provides hope to imagine and build a true and honest faith that does justice. As we cross the half-way mark of the program, we are grateful to the entire TEA community for entering into this journey together.
While we experience the beloved community in the midst of our relationships, a faith that does justice inevitably also involves calling out the grave injustices and abuses of power we encounter in the culture and institutions around us. This Advent, Benincasa Community, the NY Catholic Worker, and CTA Metro collaborated to vigil outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in order to expose the Archdiocese’s reprehensible efforts to resist and lobby against the Child Victims Act. The CVA passed in New York State on January 28th(!), and will allow child victims of sexual abuse to file claims against their perpetrators as adults. With even more revelations of Church cover-ups and out-right exploitation, time is up for us idle church-goers and believers. We must pray and take action.
During this time of year when there is much activity found beneath the surface of our soil, albeit mostly unseen, our own active lives must also turn inward, if we are fortunate enough to take refuge in the warmth and comfort of our homes and communities. We celebrated together during our Christmas Cheer Fundraiser, sitting close to one another in our front room, taking great pleasure in the storytelling and singing of Mark, Alison, and Jared. Weeks later, under signs, banners, and the protection of Grand Central Terminal’s starry sky, we joined hundreds of others in a Women’s Rally highlighting the lives of our sisters with disabilities. And weeks after that, we enjoyed the comforts of Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, attending a panel discussion about women deacons. Despite our best efforts to raise obvious questions about women’s ordination to the priesthood and question Pope Francis’ position on women’s leadership, we were sorely disappointed to find that dialogue and discussion about the issue were not welcome, even in an academic space. As a grace to us, we were invited days later to attend the ordination of Adam Bucko into the diaconate of the Episcopal Church. Adam took his place alongside his women predecessors. As we learned during the service: “Yours is the work of proclaiming the gospel and preaching it in season and out of season, announcing the word of challenge and comfort that all need to hear.” Let it be so for you, dear Adam, and let it be so for us. This winter, may you also be comforted and challenged and may you offer the comfort and the challenge that all need to hear.
As the frigid months of winter continue, let us take stock of the gifts we have and prepare for the coming springtime when seed-planting begins and new life leaps forth. Together, let’s imagine a 2019 filled with vibrant life and complexity, the kind that makes being connected to one another in a single, diverse, inclusive community so beautiful.
Sending much love and peace.
Student Leader, Nicole Gratzer Reflects on
Week of Exploring Identity, Faith, and Justice
In early January, I was lucky to spend a week with the beautiful and welcoming community at Benincasa. I traveled to New York with a group of Xavier University students from Cincinnati as part of a faith and justice immersion trip. Some of the goals of our trip were to think about racial and economic injustice, learn more about Dorothy Day, who is the namesake of our trip, and explore the intersection of faith and justice. As a student leader in the group, I spent significant time planning for the trip and was so excited to finally go. Still, I could not have anticipated the feelings of joy and warmth I experienced in community that week and how profoundly this experience would impact me.
For months before this trip, I struggled in my faith journey. I have been Catholic my whole life. In recent months, I had been struggling with issues with the Catholic Church that kept coming up for me, and I was exhausted from being let down by this institution I knew and loved. These doubts about the Church became major obstacles in my faith life. Getting the chance to experience a lay-led liturgy at Benincasa was a breath of fresh air for me. It was so moving to see a vibrant faith community, coming together to connect with God in a way that was familiar and personal to my own practice but without the issues of hierarchy I had been struggling with. I was grateful to learn about the history of house churches from Sean, Karen, and Jimmy. The whole experience was familiar yet also radically different from so many of the liturgies I attended before. It felt just right for me; exactly what I needed in my faith life but would never have known how to ask God for.
During our week in New York, our group also spent a lot of time with the Catholic Workers, specifically Maryhouse and St. Joseph House. We served soup, cleaned out clutter, and washed many, many dishes. I was struck by the hard-working nature of the Catholic Workers. While some of us served lunch in the kitchen, others of us also organized many years worth of activism signs and materials. I was inspired by the Catholic Worker’s commitment to both serving the poor and working tirelessly for justice. On Friday, our group had the opportunity to protest in Union Square against the torture and indefinite detention of men in Guantanamo Bay. We were able to see that our faith calls us to speak out against injustice, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
I am more grateful for my week in New York at Benincasa than I can put into words. From times of silent prayer to daily community dinners, Benincasa taught me the importance and power of a faith community that practices radical hospitality. Some of my final takeaways, written in scrawled handwriting in my journal at the end of a few exhausting days were these:
“My faith life doesn’t have to suck because I’m wrestling with the Catholic Church. The Church is a human institution that is imperfect, but that is not my faith. My belief in a loving, just God is my faith, and that now feels liberated from any system.”
“Faith doesn’t just motivate justice. The action of seeking justice in and of itself is profoundly spiritual action”