“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come
uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are deprived the status of persons, those who are tortured, bombed and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world… It is in these that he hides himself.” Thomas Merton
(reprinted from Xmas 2004)
Today we read the above passage, along with the Canticle of Zechariah, at out Thursday-morning
scripture reflection session. The living room was filled to overflowing, mostly with Spanish-speaking
immigrants. Among these were several Mexican women with small children. Typically these folks have been coming from the Chiapas area; they are “undocumented”, which is a kinder, gentler, politically-correct way of saying what we really mean: They are illegal. Illegal! Is it just me, or is there something downright looney about making people illegal? Most of the Mexicans in our neighborhood are devout Catholics, but we see very few in church. They tend to fear taking part in public events because of their immigration status. They come here desperate to feed their families, often having to leave behind dependents and send money home. They come to do the work that simply would not get done without them- planting, harvesting, sweat-shop labor, shoveling our s—, washing our cars. Their reward, aside from less-then-subsistence wages, is to be forced to live bent over, precariously and out of plain sight, under the radar. And the radar has been intensified in the past few months: On the day after Thanksgiving, the INS made a national sweep through Walmart stores (looking for terrorists?), and led hundreds away in handcuffs. Proposed legislation in Connecticut would make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to hold drivers licenses, which would classify their 5AM trip from New Haven to work in the suburbs, crowded into vans, as a crime. And now we hear of the federal government’s unprecedented intent to transfer responsibility for seeking out illegal immigrants from the INS to local authorities! This will make our friends afraid to call the police or fire department in emergencies, seek legal assistance, attend English class, or even go to a hospital emergency room. Such is the “security” that comes from the dividing the world into legal and illegal, persons and non-persons. It occurred to me that here, in our living room, during the third week of Advent, were sitting the people in whom Christ hides himself. How closely their lives resemble the first few years of Jesus’ own life: traveling far from home, forced to flee, unwelcome, hiding from state. “The people for whom there is no room.”
But they found room here! What a joy for us, that they feel it’s safe to come here!That is the gift
that we count most precious, the fact that Christ walks into our lives on a daily basis. I often struggle when
trying to explain what we do here at the Amistad Catholic Worker. We’re not very well organized, we lack
structure, and the work changes from week to week. Yes, we have an open door for meals, we give out food, clothes, furniture and other necessities as they become available. People take showers here and wash their clothes, and some come to stay for a night or a year or for as long as they can tolerate us. We also raise a voice of dissent to the system the illegalizes people, we insist on nonviolence, and we try our best to take prophetic stands for peace and justice. But none of these things describe what the Amistad House does.
We are not a program or an organization or a church or a help agency. We cannot boast of feeding or
housing multitudes. Rather, we are simply a place where nobody is illegal, where Christ is welcome, where the encounter with those for whom there is no room is available to all who choose to hang around a while. Our kitchen table is a eucharistic table, because it is where we break bread with Christ in the person of the poor. Often the encounter is not comfortable, because it tends to afflict those who experience it with the invitation to come closer. We get invited to make their struggles our own. We get invited to be angry about injustice and violence and poverty, and to feel the inescapable need to do something about them. We get invited to surrender some of our own security and privilege. We get invited to take risks in the effort to move from service to solidarity, which is what the gospels and our church’s teachings demand. And the further we move down that path, the more we confront the frightening reality of how much we need each other.
How can we speak of the events of this year – personal, communal, neighborhood, global? I’m
reminded of a story i once heard about one of the great saints (Was it Francis? It might as well have been) who was tending his garden one day, when someone came along and asked him, “What would you do if God told you that the world was to end this evening?” To which he replied, “I’d finish planting this row of beans.” The profundity of such a statement, of course, lies in it’s simplicity, a simplicity which flows from the conviction that God is in control, and the work at hand is precious because it is what God has given one to do. This year we have found the work at hand to be daunting, almost overwhelming at times, and much of it has seemed as pragmatically futile as planting beans when the world is about to end. I only wish we could learn to approach it with all the serenity of the gardener. But the fact is, we have found ourselves
responding to crisis after crisis- from the pain and suffering of those coming to our door, to running out
of money to pay the bills, to the insane war on Iraq, to the breakdown of our in-house community, to the house itself falling apart- and all too often with an anxiety that betrays our lack of faith. Through it all, the
material, moral and emotional support of you, our extended community, has been our daily bread. You
constantly remind us by your goodness that believing in God is inseparable from believing in each other.
Thank you, bless you, and peace be with you.
The Amistad Catholic Worker