A fellow Holy Cross priest, Dan Groody, CSC, has written an article on migration for the February 7th edition of America magazine. I am really impressed with how well it applies to our ministry here. Dan is a theologian who teaches at Notre Dame. His article is called: “A Theology of Migration: a new method for understanding God on the move.”
He talks about an encounter with a homeless person early in his theological studies that radically changed his approach to theology. “…we lived in two different worlds. My reality was a comfortable home, a warm bed and a life of the mind; his was distress and discomfort, a brick mattress and life on the streets.” If you have been following these columns, you can well understand why that first paragraph more than piqued my interest!
Dan started wondering how the world, and God, might be understood from the vantage point of the homeless. He began to study theology with “the crucified people of today.” He made “an attempt to understand the gift and challenge of Christian faith, beginning with those who live with acute human suffering, like undocumented migrants or victims of human trafficking.” Or, I would add, the homeless and addicted and mentally ill people on the streets of Portland.
Some of Dan’s comments are worthy of long reflections: “God (is) not a concept to be understood but a person to be encountered in the depth of one’s being.” And: “…theology is not simply about ‘faith seeking understanding’ but also about generating knowledge born of love.” As he says about migrants, so it is true here that our guests “do not care what (we) know, but want to know that (we) care.”
That God is encountered in the depth of human experience is not a mere piety. Anyone who spends time here, guests and volunteers both, know this, whether through a night with Brother André Café, the Personal Poverty Retreat or only a single morning in the Hospitality Center. How often people volunteering have said they came to help, and help was given to them. They were challenged by their own encounters to grow in ways that were completely unexpected. The experience touched the depths of their being through their openness to the depth of our guests’ beings. Our word for what has been encountered but cannot be fully described is ‘God’. Our Incarnate God has the face of our volunteers and of our guests, of those who live on the streets and those from the West Hills. Once encountered, God cannot be ignored. Perhaps that is why people keep coming back.