Psalm 105 Comes to the Parking Lot

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Hard as it is to believe in the midst of July, but planning is well underway in Milwaukee for responding to extreme cold events this winter, and what will be done to bring our brothers and sisters to safety. Last year’s threshold for opening a warming center was 20 degrees or below, and/or blizzard conditions. This year the Continuum of Care for the city and county hope to open warming centers at 32 degrees of below. Funding has to be identified, and sites. The Saint Ben’s site of Capuchin Community Services will likely be a part of the response. Why? Ask Abraham.

In today’s First Reading, the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the motivations or interior thoughts or internal struggles of Abraham are never revealed, rather, he “sees, judges, acts,” to use the formula of liberation theology, and he welcomes the strangers passing through his promised land. He has the capacity – note that he has flocks and servants and surplus – but more important, he has the desire to offer hospitality. And it is so for us.

The warming center ministry of Saint Ben’s and Capuchin Community Services was formed out of desire; the capacity came later. When Brother Rob Roemer, ministry director at the time the warming center was opened, was approached by the CoC, the desire to begin this work of mercy made everything else possible. The core of the capacity of Saint Ben’s to serve is the “shirts,” the hospitality ministers who serve each night at the Meal Hall. When the warming center opened the shirts pull twelve hour overnight shifts to keep the separate men’s and women’s sleeping areas safe and clean. And then there are the volunteers, who came every night and early each morning to serve snacks and beverages, and help re-set the Meal Hall for service. The Street Angels played a vital part, too, using their vans to bring people to shelter, and supplying hot food and warm clothes. Grants from area foundations helped finance this ministry last year, and we will again ask for help if we are included in this year’s plan.

Abraham shared what he had because he knew that every good thing comes from God, and that God would somehow keep the covenantal promise to bless his household with descendants. Last week, on Thursday the 18th to be precise, I met someone who kept their promise to God. I was called to the Saint Ben’s parking lot by Brother Carl: “A woman wants to see you.” In the parking lot, “while the day was growing hot” (Gen 18: 1), I greeted this stranger with a handshake and a self-intro.

Looking down my sister pushed and pulled her hand out of her pants pocket saying quietly “So …” and counted into my hand ten $100 bills. I looked at her, looked at my hand, looked at her, said, “Thank you,” stumbled another moment, and then said, “You’ll need a receipt for this donation – who should I make out the receipt to?” She paused and said, “Anonymous.”

She paused again and then said, “I was here for the warming center in the winter and I promised God ….” And then she couldn’t go on. So I tried to finish her thought, saying, “You know that God has kept every promise God ever made to us, and what you’re doing is holy, because you are keeping your promise to God.” And she nodded. I asked if I could give her a hug, and she said yes, and so we embraced in the parking lot. Then she asked me to pray with her daughter, who then joined us, and that’s what we did – prayed and praised and gave thanks to God.

In the story of Abraham, who received the highest blessing? Hard to say. In the Saint Ben’s story, who was it? Hey, I was there, and I am still stumped. Jesus told Martha in the Gospel what was “the better part” (Lk 10: 42). As for me and my sisters, until we figure out what that exactly is, we shall serve the Lord.