Greetings from Portland, Oregon, where I'm spending the summer! As part of the formation program in Holy Cross, many seminarians are sent out on ministry placements during the summer months in order to give us more experience in ministry and help us continue to discern our call to the priesthood and religious life.
This summer I was lucky enough to be assigned to St. André Bessette Catholic Church in downtown Portland. In addition to offering many of the services and programs of a regular parish, St. André Bessette Parish (also known as the "Downtown Chapel") attempts to provide hospitality and hope to the poor and homeless residents of the downtown area through morning and evening hospitality programs. Services available during the hospitality programs include warm food, clothing, hygiene, haircuts, foot care and fellowship. It is really quite an incredible place!
In my role as a pastoral intern this summer, I primarily help out with the hospitality programs. Thus, on a given day you can find me doing anything from cooking and serving food, to running the clothing closet, to greeting guests at the front door, to talking and praying with guests one-on-one. I also bring Holy Communion to home-bound parishioners in addition to visiting any non-Catholic neighbors who find themselves unable to leave their apartments and want a visitor.
It is the perfect ministry placement for me in that it is helping me to develop a number of different ministerial skills. No two days at St. André Bessette Parish are ever the same, and this has given me a great deal to reflect on as I prepare for ministry in Holy Cross and ministry in the Church.
In particular, my time at St. André Bessette Parish has challenged me to reflect more deeply on the tradition of hospitality in Holy Cross. In Holy Cross, we pride ourselves on the hospitality we show to others. We pride ourselves on welcoming others – family, friends, visitors, the poor, etc. – with sincerity, simplicity and sensitivity.
Before this summer, though, I'd never really thought too much about why this was the case. I'd always just taken it for granted. But my time at St. André Bessette Parish this summer has forced me to think more deeply about the meaning of hospitality in Holy Cross. And the conclusion I have reached is that hospitality is so very important in Holy Cross because it is intimately linked with hope.
As men with hope to bring, we must be hospitable to others because it is in our hospitality that others are filled with hope. I say this because I've come to believe that the daily visitors to our parish come not primarily because they are in search of food or a warm place to stay for a couple of hours – other services also offer these things – but because the fellowship and community they receive fills them, whether they would describe it in this manner or not, with hope.
In their interactions with volunteers, staff and their fellow guests, guests of St. André Bessette Parish experience a love that calls them out of despair. It is a love that allows for second chances, a love that treats all people with dignity. It reminds them, as our Constitutions put it, of the reality that "there is no failure the Lord's love cannot reverse, no humiliation he cannot exchange for blessing, no anger he cannot dissolve, no routine he cannot transfigure" (8:118). It is a love that produces hope.
The problem, of course, is that loving in a way that produces hope is very challenging. It can be difficult at times to offer hospitality to that one person who rubs you the wrong way. That's where the beauty of community comes into play. For when I am struggling to offer the proper level of hospitality to a guest at the Downtown Chapel, I can rely on my fellow staff members to assist me.
Similarly, when I am struggling to offer hospitality to a guest at Moreau Seminary, I can rely on my fellow seminarians to assist me. And vice versa. This is the beauty of being a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Together, we can offer the hospitality that produces hope.
Mr. Christopher Rehagen, C.S.C., is in his first year of temporary vows and is studying theology as a seminarian at Moreau Seminary on the campus of Notre Dame. He and other seminarians at Moreau write a post each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically about the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary, which constitutes the first year of religious and priestly formation in Holy Cross for college graduates and Old College seniors.