Today, we take a break from our Catholic Schools Week series to return to our regularly scheduled programming of “Sermon on the Street” by Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C., the director of André House. Providentially, he shares a story that we can say is really about education in the faith – both that of the volunteers who come to work at André House as well as his own.
This past January has been a month of visitors at André House. During the first week of the January the Core Staff and I went away for a week “retreat.” We prayed together and reflected together, as you would expect on retreat. But, to be honest, it was also very much a time to be together away from the daily work and routine of André House. During that week, we had a wonderful group of 10 students and 2 staff from King’s College – a Holy Cross school located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They come every January to help us for a week over their winter break, and they did a fantastic job. The following week we had another group of students from Bridgewater State College. These eight students and two staff members worked side by side with the current Core Community, and really helped us tremendously.
Then, the last two weeks of January, I had very important visitors at André House – my parents. My mom’s cousins were here with them one week, and then some of my mom’s college friends were with them the second week. During that second week I put my mom and her friend – both of whom were teachers – to work helping to watch over two groups of 5th graders who spent the morning with us sorting through donations to our clothing closet.
We also have been blessed to have a Holy Cross Novice spend the entire month of January with us.
Having so many visitors requires a different type of energy as we try to introduce them to the different aspects of our ministry, and their help is really appreciated. But after 2 ½ years at André House, one of the things I appreciate the most about these visitors is the fresh perspective that they bring. After living and working at André House for a while, some things become normal that may not be so to others.
For example, one of our guests has a habit of dropping to his knees and getting back up again fairly frequently. He does that enough that he’s been given the moniker “Bow Down.” Talking with Bow Down, I know that he does this for his own reasons, many of which can be quite spiritual. But after knowing him for months, his ritual no longer surprises me. It did raise some eyebrows at first from a few of our visitors.
Hearing stories from the students who spent time with us and how they were touched by their experiences has been truly moving for me. To hear from them the awe of being invited to share a conversation with an André House guest about issues he/she is struggling with or of helping them to connect with family via our phone office and overhearing (without trying in the tiny office) conversations of the pain of separation or rejection from loved ones is truly humbling. Hearing these stories about the guests who come to André House through the lens of those coming to visit and minister with us for a brief time really deepened my sense of being blessed to be immersed in these stories on a regular basis.
Ultimately, as we enter the month of February in which we will celebrate Valentine’s Day, it made me reflect on love. Our visitors opened their hearts in love to our guests – not the schmaltzy and sentimental type of love. They opened their hearts to a love that opens oneself to share in the sorrows as well as the joys, the pains as well as the delights of another. And our guests responded in kind. Our guests took the risk to open up to our visitors, as they have opened up to me, which is also on some level an act of love and trust. Our guests who share their stories trust that they have found a place where they will receive love – the love of having their story of pain or joy heard and honored. The open heart brings healing. Isn’t that why we can go with confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? His open heart brings us healing, strength and joy.
I pray in this month of Valentines and hearts that those who come through the Open Door of André House find open hearts here, and in doing so find the healing, strength and joy they need.