Sunday, August 14, 2011

Service founded in (Catholic) Faith

Last week, as part of our Seminarian Days retreat (an event for men already in the seminary for the ArchD of OKC, as opposed to the Emmaus Days retreat for men discerning seminary that was the context for my last post) we traveled to Tulsa to get to know our in-state diocesan neighbors. There were many good parts of the trip but what I wish to share here is what I learned during our visit to the new Catholic Charities campus on the north side of Tulsa, specifically the amazing way they run their work.*

First, exactly how many people they serve with exactly what services is not the important part but rather how they do this that is important. Put most simply, they put their Catholic Faith and the principles of Catholic social teaching first and let everything flow from that.

Approaching from the front the facility makes a strong impression. There is a beautiful bronze statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus, larger than life size and made of real cast bronze. The architecture is mission style with real, bold, white stucco and rough wooden beams. Above the chapel, with it's large, bright stained glass windows, is a bell tower in which hang three real brass bells.

Inside, where appropriate, like at reception counters, there is granite. The waiting area has leather chairs. In the teaching kitchen there are industrial grade appliances. In the dentistry area, the exam chairs, the x-ray equipment etc., is all of the same quality one would find in a professional dentist's office. On the patio in the courtyard there are chairs and tables durable enough to last a thousand years. The floors are polished concrete, the doors, all of them, are solid wood (as opposed to those flimsy hollow ones.)

In every room there's a crucifix. The ministries (food, clothing, dentistry, immigration, pregnancy etc...) are named for Saints and they really do ask for intercession from those Saints.

In the chapel...oh the chapel!...the stained glass is large and vibrant. Immediately behind the central tabernacle is Christ's Ascension and on the sides are two relatively modern saints, St. Katherine Drexel and St. Martin de Porres, both of whom worked for the poor and under-privileged. The altar is real Italian marble (with a relic of St. Paul inside). The Stations of the Cross, the tabernacle, the holy water fonts and many other pieces were custom made, by hand, for this chapel.

It might at first feel that all that to just to brag about how nice of a place it is (which it is) but that it's the point. In fact luxury is the farthest reason for all of the above. It's about practicality, about doing things right and doing them for the right reasons. It's about the people that are served and their worth as human beings. And it's about doing what Christ called his Church to do without making any excuses or taking any shortcuts.

The facilities are of high quality (different than luxurious) because the people that are being served deserve to be treated with respect. It may seem silly to some to put nice chairs in a waiting room that serves mostly lower class people but as Dcn. Kevin S., our tour guide and the Executive Director said, "The person sitting in the chair is more important than the chair." These people deserve a respectable environment even if they can't pay for the services they receive. It isn't about the money. It isn't about the chairs. It's about the people and serving them as Christ calls.

And speaking of Christ's call...first, to prayer. The staff prays together up to three times per day, on the clock! Many of the staff pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer together in the chapel at the beginning and end of each day from the four-volume breviary. Plus, there's daily mass at noon celebrated by priests from around the Tulsa area.

Ah, the mass! Earlier I mentioned the real wood and the real bronze, the real bells the real Italian marble altar. They're real for the above reasons but also as a reminder of something even greater. Again, courtesy of Dcn. Kevin S.. He said that all these real things are for the sake of consistency, so that when during the mass the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Jesus there is a consistent message. Everything here is true. There are no illusions, no imitations. It all works together as a whole. Real Jesus. Real Charity.

Before I close there are some other details that show the character of the place.
-They raised the money for the chapel first and put it most prominently in the front of the building.
-They take no government funding so that there won't be temptation to compromise values.
-They insist on being classified as a religious organization not just a generic social services organization.
-The 3 bells on top of the chapel are named "Ask and you will receive.", "Seek and you will find." and "Knock and the door will be opened."

In summary, Catholic Charities in Tulsa is a thriving and vibrant campus that helps thousands of people regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs etc., all without sacrificing any of their Catholic identity. Sometimes organizations downplay their Catholicity because they think it will be a stumbling block but Catholic Charities - Tulsa has shown me that such a view is untrue.

I am reminded of the first half of Psalm 127: "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do it builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber."

The implication is that with God's help things are really awesome but if God's not involved, what's the point? If the value of the work He helps with is so far above what He doesn't help with why would you ever avoid asking?

*-No one at 'Catholic Charities - Tulsa' contributed to this blog post directly, asked me write it or even had any knowledge of it's existence before it's publication. Everything here is based on my experience of touring the campus and on comments made by Dcn. Kevin S., the Executive Director, that I wrote down during the tour.

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