6 Jul 2014
“‘Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.’” (Matt. 11:28)
In the name …
This past Monday and Tuesday 29 of us from the parish traveled down to Scranton, and even though it was touch and go sometimes I actually came home with 29 of us. At breakfast on Tuesday morning I sat next to Judy and Katie in the very same booth. When I started driving the 15 passenger van away from the restaurant, as I was heading out to the road, I saw this woman and child walking in front of us. You know how sometimes your brain reacts before you’re aware of it? Well, my brain is saying, “What are Judy and Katie doing out there?” Then I realized. They’re not in the van. Some-times you just take things for granted, like everyone is on board, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to go down to Scranton. I hoped the trip would make us more aware of the history that gave birth, purpose and vision to our church because sometimes we may take her for granted.
For me that became crystal clear during our very first stop. We met with Prime Bishop Anthony Mikovsk. He invited us into his office in the National Church Center and then took us over to the church library. The Bishop highlighted a few long rows of books that were the remaining volumes of the lending library that Bp. Hodur had started when our church was first organized. This may seem inauspicious in a world filled with Kindles and Google, but over a hundred years ago this effort was transformative. Most of our founding families earned a living mining coal. It was a horribly difficult way to earn a living. On Tuesday we went down into a coal mine ourselves and I don’t think any of us left there unmoved by what we saw. Back around 1900, if a miner died, his body wasn’t removed from the mine until the end of the shift. When they dropped the body off at the new widow’s house, because that house was owned by the coal mine, she had three days to find a replacement miner from the family or be thrown out on the street. This is why hardly any young men had a chance at an education. They all ended up going into the mines.
Hodur knew this, but he was also repulsed by it. Jesus was his inspiration to try and change the world we live in. If the mines would take away a person’s opportunity to learn, then the church would give it back to them, and that’s why the lending library was so meaningful to see. Few others cared about exposing these miners and their families to anything more than a shovel, but our church gave them books to read by great writers and held Sunday evening gatherings to speak about politics and science. Church wasn’t pray and obey, and wait for heaven’s reward. Church empowered her members and gave them a way to make a difference. I’ll never forget Hodur’s words to his parishioners: “Learn to think for yourselves.” Bp. Mikovsky also told us that Hodur would write under a pen name. He did this in our church publications because if he could not find anyone to write an opposing argument to his, he would create the counter-argument himself. He did this to get our people to think, to debate and to consider different opinions. I hope we never take this for granted.
After meeting with the Prime Bishop, we went downstairs in the National Church Center and met with two officers of our church’s fraternal. Again, insurance policy rates and how much interest the credit union is paying are pretty unexceptional conversations, but just like the lending library they represent an important aspect of our church. Our organizers were dirt poor and they were meant to stay that way. This insured that the mines had a permanent work force. Again, our church, inspired by Jesus, stepped in and tried to make a difference. On the back of your song sheet is a drawing. The face of the frightened girl is cupped lovingly in hands still marked by crucifixion. If you are on the parish email list, you also received a story from me about a statue that depicts Jesus as a homeless man hunkered down on a park bench beneath a blanket. The only way to tell that He is our Saviour is to see the nail prints in His exposed feet. http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community The artist was giving expression to Jesus’ words: “‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:40) And this all ties-in with Jesus’ words today of “Come to me all your who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.” To follow Jesus means having a social conscience, not only a religious one.
Half of us spent Monday night at the Bp. Hodur Retreat Center. It’s located in the countryside around Scranton. It’s still beautiful up there. I sat out with a couple of friends after the kids went to bed. [Tristen story] You can see so many more stars there than even in South Deerfield. The next morning I was up early and watched the sun cut through the fog as horses grazed in the field. It was all beautiful to see. I bought a postcard in Scranton by a local artist of a nipper boy. These were the boys who would spend a ten hour shift down in the mine in a little dark room by themselves. Their job was to open and close doors as the coal carts went by. I can’t imagine how exciting it would have been for a kid like that from the coal mines to go out to the countryside with his friends, to play in the fields and to swim in the pond. But again, this is something our church viewed as a religious responsibility.
When we shared books out of the church library, when we held lectures to educate our members, when we tried to help them financially, when we trucked children out to the countryside, we were sharing Jesus’invitation of “Come to me” that was extended to all those who laboured and who were heavy burdened and exhausted. What we do here at Mass refreshes us and brings us together so that we can then make a difference in the world. As I was driving the van every so often Joel Farrick would yell out to me: “Jesus, take the wheel.” I think Joel was worried about my driving, but I think the saying means to let Jesus give us direction. That we may continue to be inspired by Jesus to do what we can to make a difference in our world, because of our faith and because of our church, it is for this that we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo