As educators in the faith, we in Holy Cross certainly live out that charism in the classroom, but as Fr. Ron Raab, C.S.C., shows in his new book The Unsheltered Heart: An Advent At-Home Retreat, much of our education in the faith occurs outside the comfortable confines of classroom walls. Today Fr. Ron – the associate pastor of the Downtown Chapel, a Holy Cross parish in Portland, Oregon, and award-winning author – shares with us the inspiration behind his moving new book, available for purchase through Ave Maria Press.
I feel helpless among suffering people. I grow angry that some friends suffering mental illness cannot afford proper medications. I rage over people who live outdoors because they cannot keep jobs because of trauma they carry from childhood sexual abuse. I fear for an elderly neighbor who roams the sidewalks lost in Alzheimer’s. These issues aren’t abstractions, but are real people’s lives, the stories of people I minister among every day. The lives of our friends and neighbors form our mission of prayer and service at the Downtown Chapel in Portland, Oregon.
In these past few years I have written many words trying to articulate my fear, loneliness and apprehension in our ministry at the parish. I started writing shortly after Daniel Adesan was shot nine times and died at the red doors of our parish building. I woke up in the middle of the night startled by the fact that even in my bedroom my fear could not rest. I longed to do something for his memory. Several days later I gathered members of his family and a few parishioners at 3:00 a.m., the hour of Daniel’s death, to pray on the sidewalk where he was murdered. Finally, I was awakened to bring my faith and the commitment of our parishioners to our common fear and uncertainty.
Daniels’ murder changed my life. Since that experience, I have been writing for various liturgical and pastoral publications in Canada and the United States. My writing connects the deep and profound message of our common rituals to people who suffer severe addictions, homelessness and mental illness. I articulate my passion for the sacred liturgy and the demands of ministering among people who suffer the most.
These pastoral experiences and writing over one hundred articles form the basis for my first book, The Unsheltered Heart: an Advent at-home retreat. The liturgical season of Advent propels the cries of the ancient prophets into our celebrations of the Eucharist. I suggest in the book that we also need to listen to the quiet, fearful prophets who cry out in our pews for change and comfort. These prophets are teenage prostitutes lost in addiction and slavery. These prophets are young veterans forgotten in the turmoil of loss and mental illness. These prophets have lost jobs, homes and families because of domestic violence. Every praying person needs to move beyond simply listening to the prophets, scriptural and new. We all need to receive their profound messages with an unsheltered heart and an open mind. This is where hope is continually born in our midst.
I am grateful for this opportunity to share the lessons I learn in parish ministry from people surviving poverty. I live the formal education I received as a young member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, now in the midst of fear and uncertainty. I listen to the crosses that so many people suffer in sorrow and in solitude. People call me into the depths of faith and invite me to live the mystery that the cross of Christ is our only hope.
Also check out Fr. Ron’s recent podcast interview with Lisa Henley of Catholic Moments.