Mason Street Musings

posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on March 15th, 2011

Originally published in the April/May 2011 issue of The Catholic Radical.

Ding Dong! “Good Grief!” I grumbled as I dragged myself out of bed. “Who the heck could be at our door at 2 a.m.?” I went into our chilly hall to see a young couple on our front porch.

I asked them in and quickly learned that they are musicians from Illinois who were sleeping in their van in a Walmart parking lot until it got too cold.

“Our van died in front of your house,” the husband said gesturing toward a vehicle jutting out at an angle from Mason Court into Mason Street. “We know the Saint Louis Catholic Worker,” he concluded, as if that pretty much told all we needed to know.

True enough. Forget the fact that we were biblically obligated to welcome them as we would Christ Himself, how could we be jerks to someone who might tarnish our reputation in the CW family? So I roused Dave, who helped move the van, while I made up two beds and then settled our latest guests in for the night.

By dinner time the next day, this couple, who previously represented a late- night aggravation, were transformed into a fascinating pair who have recorded some pretty impressive music. So it goes. Contrary to the adage about familiarity breeding contempt, I find that I usually like people once I get to know them. Personal details elevate our guests above the stereotypes tacked on by social workers or late night first impressions.

When details emerge of how someone came to seek shelter from us, we become intimately aware of lives in a downward spiral and, worse still, lives which never really had any security to begin with. The transformation, we witness in them as they become more comfortable here, is one of my favorite things about the Catholic Worker. They seem more at home. We are able to joke together and reduce the indignities of their situation. These strangers become “our people” as the Southerners used to say when Claire and I were Catholic Workers in Washington, DC.

Hospitality often reminds me of resurrection. When a person is down and alone, they feel pretty morbid. Their former friends and family might even treat them as if they were dead. Watching a guest regain confidence is like springtime, a new beginning after a hard winter. The late-night couple shared their music, other guests have shared their writing, and many have shared their art. These aren’t bums. They are individuals with something unique to contribute.

Of course, resurrections are very much like spring in that they are seasons. Only The Resurrection is eternal. Some of our guests arrive as the leaves are turning brown. Some are stuck in a bitter cold winter, mocking the idea of spring rebirth.

The people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and anywhere else where dictatorships are being torn down are also experiencing a kind of spring. Unfortunately, the Chinese student uprising, crushed in Tianamen Square, never got the chance to blossom into democratic summer. Unlike calendar seasons, life’s seasons aren’t always timely or consecutive. But our actions can help bring spring on and lengthen summertime. Our faith can also dispel the despair which sees spring as impossible.

In a way, the Catholic Worker plants seeds for a new spring. Our hospitality and peacework are as hopeful as farming. Your prayers and support are essential for that miracle. May Christ’s Resurrection on Easter make it easier for you to believe in resurrections too.

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