For Means With

Thomas, center, working with others to set up a recording studio in a former bathroom at PBMR

by Thomas Weiss, Precious Blood Volunteer

I’m getting better at this. Summarizing, synthesizing, selecting particularly poignant moments laden with “spiritual significance.” My parents ask me to do this when I visit home. We sit around the kitchen table fidgeting with our coffee mugs and they, God bless them, ask me questions as if I’m returning from overseas. My friends on Chicago’s north side hush their voices when they ask me about my work day, like we are passing notes in the back row of middle school algebra. I hope Ms. Hopewell doesn’t catch us! Or, put on the individual level, it’s like a child flipping through the pages of forbidden fiction beneath the bedsheets, flashlight in a vice grip between incisors. The (mostly white) circle into which I was born is undeniably fascinated with my work, just a minute fraction of the labor Precious Blood clergy, lay workers, and Companions devote toward the ultimate renewal of the world. Needless to say, I am gladdened by their fascination. Many are even fascinated enough to offer generous donations, and for this, of course, I am delighted.

And yet, there’s a nagging dissatisfaction when the evening ends and I am alone. At the end of it all, I do not want your money: I want your allegiance.

The most outspokenly Catholic kid in my class at college proudly toted a MAGA hat around campus. His sweaters were Burberry, his shoes Sperry’s, his parka made from goose feathers. I believe he is now discerning the priesthood. After the shooting in Kenosha, another young lady from my college made sure to let me know that Jacob Blake was a rapist, and that Black Lives Matter’s founders were Marxists not to be trusted. She later invited me to Mass the following evening.

Let me be clear: I am not exempt from my own criticism. My parents gave me a car, debt free, on my sixteenth birthday. I attended highly privileged high school and university, never having to work a job outside of class to keep myself afloat. I went to summer church camps with water slides and power boats.

I’ve been to Europe on four different occasions. My family has vacationed in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Alaska. My story bears the indelible mark of unapologetic privilege.

I suppose that’s why I felt I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus last month, walking down Michigan Avenue.

A few of the boys I mentor at PBMR wanted to drive downtown to Millennium Park to see the Christmas lights. As we walked toward the park, we saw an old man, homeless, sitting on the sidewalk, his back curled up against the concrete retaining wall that runs along Michigan Avenue. The man was singing, wailing, head tilted up into the yellow street lights, colored intermittently with the red beams of brake lights. He jingled the coins in his Big Gulp like a tambourine.

One of the young men raced ahead of the group and dropped half of what he had in his pocket into the man’s cup. Another of the young men droped in a few bucks as we passed. They told him to stay safe and we walked on toward the Christmas tree. “Man, I just hate to see people like that,” one of them said to me. “If I make it to college, I’m going to open a homeless shelter. I hate to see people like that.”

I was dumbstruck by the unbridled Catholicism of these young men, neither of whom were religious. Both boys would be considered “poor” as we commonly understand the label. Yet, there they were, giving away their few and precious resources to a man they have never met before. I saw a mixture of the Good Samaritan and Mary Magdalene, anointing Jesus’ feet with her precious perfume.

Jesus was for the poor; this much is obvious. What I find to be often forgotten is that Jesus was poor. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus tells those of us with two tunics to give one away to those who have none. As if this were not explicit enough, he says to do the same with food. Fundamentally, Jesus means that to be for the poor is to break bread with the poor. It means giving beyond what makes us comfortable. It means giving $10 to a homeless man on Michigan Ave when you have $20 in your pocket. I ask myself daily what it means for me, and I ask the same of you.

To give a sizable amount of cash can change lives. It ferries resources into resource-scare areas. It opens doors which were formerly closed. But the real act of service stems from the realization of equivalence: just as Christ “emptied himself ” and took on the flesh of us sinners, we must realize our kinship with the beaten, hungry, weary, and alienated. Though we are not Christ, together we might become like Christ through allegiance to one another. This is the call of Christ, not toward judgment, skepticism, and cowardice, but toward radical hope, healing, and hospitality.

We—the privileged, the well-fed, the comfortable—risk the fate of the Pharisees if we do not soon recognize that Jesus’ teaching explicitly commands us to eradicate the existence of privilege. The ball is in our court, and the stakes are high. I pray that we, stirred by courage and humility, may sift through the distractions and delusions which obscure the substance of the Gospel: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This reflection originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of the “New Wine Press.”

Thomas is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Introducing the 2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteers: Thomas Weiss

2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteer, Thomas Weiss

Thomas Weiss will be serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in the Program of Liberal Studies, Notre Dame’s Great Books education.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“The most formative experience of my education was the summer service program I completed after my sophomore year at Notre Dame. Living in intentional community at Hope House and serving at PBMR will hopefully be an equally illuminating and restorative experience for me.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“The values of Precious Blood Volunteers outline the kind of life I hope to live. Commitment to serving those from suffering communities and a drive to redevelop often backward social systems resonate with the direction of my heart as I transition out of college and toward a career informed by Christ’s message of peace and compassion.”

What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am excited to step out of the classroom and into the real world. Having spent four years mostly reading books and writing essays, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to put my ideals into practice and to learn to sharpen my understanding of social realities through first-hand experience with those living on the south side of Chicago.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.

Pictures of Hope


by Steven Dougherty, Precious Blood Volunteer

Steven Dougherty is a Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois. In the three reflections below, Steven paints pictures of hope he has encountered while working there.

My second week in Chicago was one of the most violent in recent history. Waiting for the bus, I saw a man and a woman talking. They spoke slowly. The air was thick and hot. As she was leaving, the woman leaned in and hugged the man. Then she held him for a moment at arm’s length. She looked him in the eyes, and with worry in her throat she said, “Be safe.” Her words, thick in the hot air. They were desperate wounded words, heavy with fear. This was a command, a salutation, a wish—something impossible, or at least it seemed so at the time. So many people had died. Then she let the man go, freeing him from her temporary protection, hoping her wish would be enough. I thought it was beautiful how much she cared for this man, how well they must have known each other. Then the woman came to me and did the same!

****

In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have witnessed struggle, I have witnessed pain, and I have witnessed loss. I have been asked many times about hope. How can I stay hopeful doing the work I do at PBMR? I struggle with this, because finding hope feels like a privilege. If I say that I have hope that this community I work in will be revitalized and not gentrified, if I say that I hope the people we help can get jobs and will be treated fairly, or if I say that I hope people will stop dying so young, I am doing so only for myself. I think these things because at the end of the day I am tired. I have done what I know I can do, and the rest seems impossible, so I hope. I am not saying this is a bad thing, only that is not the thing I want it to be. Access to hope has become a privilege. It has become a way of distancing ourselves from the responsibility of the world’s problems. Hope for things to get better keeps things the way they are.

But there is another side to all of this, because hope does not have to be something that is stagnant. Hope can move through us and into others. When this happens, when hope draws us together, there is power—power for real change in the world. When people work together with a united vision of hope, when they know exactly what they want to accomplish, hope can be actualized. We can reach out with hope and work together to make sure that everything will be okay, and although it is hard, we do this work anyway.

In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have also witnessed this: a new kind of hope—a hope that does things in the world. It is a hope that people share with strangers. It is mixed with fear and pain, but it is strong enough to overcome them both. Since it was given to me by the woman at the bus stop, I have seen it all over Chicago, I have even used it myself: “Be safe.” There is so much behind these words. They carry a message that you are cared for, and they carry a promise that although there is so much danger that I cannot solve, you have my protection. Anytime someone leaves the Center you hear all of this. Everyone is not always safe. In fact, our participants are rarely safe—but will still hope. We believe the impossible and together we make it a little more possible.

****

The man in front of you seems old but you know that time does not pass here as it does elsewhere, so in the letter to your friend you will call him worn. He is asleep. He has been asleep since you got on the bus, and since you got on the bus, the bus has filled with heat and pressure.

In the letter to your friend you will compare it to the sun—the bus—and now it grows loud. A child begins to scream. The heat and the pressure move through your spine and you feel beyond heavy—you feel worn.
You cannot make out the words of the child. In the letter to your friend the back of the bus will be another world, one that is burning in its closeness to the sun. All you hear is longing. Longing that makes you think to write a letter to your friend. Longing to be heard: the painful pulling apart of a body from its limbs. In the letter, you will call it gun violence in Chicago. The man in front of you who you will call worn, but who you know is old for this bus and the violence, whispers with his eyes still closed, “Hey now, it’s gonna be okay.” You are not sure who he means to say it to, the child or himself. In the letter to your friend he will say it to everyone because “it” is a delicate thing: the bus and the child and your spine and Chicago, but you believe him anyway.

Steven is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.

Strong, Unified, and Here to Stay


by Leah Landry, current Precious Blood Volunteer
The women of PBMR. Not a phrase you hear often at a Center started by four priests as a safe haven for young men. But over the past few years, the women in the neighborhood have become vital members of the PBMR community. On Saturday, February 3, these women gathered together to christen the new Mother Brunner House – the Women’s Center – with a mural that depicts the strength, serenity, and power of the women of PBMR.
The project included women from three programs at PBMR: the women of the advocacy group Community and Relatives of Illinois’ Incarcerated Children (CRIIC), the women from the Mothers’ Healing Circles who have lost children to incarceration and gun violence, and the Young Women’s Group, the newest program for women.
With the help and direction of PBMR’s teaching artist, Alberto Alaniz, the women gave suggestions of the words and images that come to mind when they think of the women of PBMR. The answers were as varied as the women themselves: unity, strength, love, hearts and stars, peace signs, mother and child. Then representatives from each program consulted with Alberto and together the group came up with the image for the wall. A few weeks later, over 20 women gathered at the Mother Brunner House to paint in the image.
You’d think a room full of 20 women, ranging from ages 6 to 80, painting a huge space with lots of color would be a chaotic scene, but the space had a peaceful, collaborative, and happy feel.
Mrs. Wingard, the eldest and wisest in the group and a member of CRIIC, shared her reflections on the day: “Just to remember that I put a paintbrush on the wall and Fr. Kelly and Julie and Sr. Donna are gonna walk through there and see the mural and I thought ‘Wow, I really feel a part of that’…And then to think about them getting the house and putting something on the wall that actually reaches out to the community. [The mural] shows families coming together and it’s not just one ethnicity. It’s not just black, not just white, not just latino: it’s everyone coming together for a common cause, for our children, for our community.”
Shumeka Taylor, a representative of the Young Women’s Group, said that putting the handprints and quotes on the wall was her favorite part. “The hands was so nice. We all who had been doing the part of the wall and engraving our names and a nice quote and that’s something that’s going to live forever in the house and I like that.” Shumeka added “From the older women to the young women, I truly enjoyed it. The older lady put the French braid in my hair while I painted the rest of the mural because they didn’t want paint to get in my 26 inches. I greatly appreciated everything that went on that day.”
Aldena Brown, a member of the Mothers’ Healing Circles, felt Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much” captured the essence of the day.  “That day of the painting felt good. Everyone working together, good laughs, music, and food! That moment was like nothing mattered. Painting that mural was everything, just being a part of something so meaningful. That gave my heart joy and peace in that moment.  My mind drifted to a great place pushing that paintbrush. Yes, I must say that will be a day I’ll never forget! I was a part of that painting coming to life! I’m very thankful!”
The women of PBMR are leaving their legacy all over PBMR and the neighborhood, from the relationships they make to the steps they take towards their goals to the beautiful mural that will greet all the visitors of the Center. From now on, every person who walks through the doors of the Mother Brunner House will know that the women in the community are an integral part of PBMR: strong, unified, and here to stay.
 
 
You can learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer by going to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org 
You can learn more about our placement at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation by going to https://preciousbloodkc.org/precious-blood-ministry-of-reconciliation/ 

Introducing the 2017-2018 Precious Blood Volunteers: Marijo Gabriel

2017-2018 Volunteer Marijo Gabriel


Marijo Gabriel is from Phoenix, Arizona and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology at Creighton University in May. She will be serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago and living in community with the Dayton Precious Blood sisters who live and serve in Chicago. Her term of service will run from September 2017 to June 2018

  • Why do you want to volunteer?

“I want to serve as a volunteer for a year because I want to be able to give of myself to those who may not be able to repay me. At Creighton we are taught to live for others and with others and that is why living in solidarity with those that are suffering and marginalized is important. I want to live in community with like- minded individuals who are working for a better tomorrow and do what they can to make the place they are living in better. I want to invest in the future, invest in people and start conversations. I may not be able to see the immediate benefit but I want to have a part in making a difference. I want to be poor and serve like Jesus did. I want to grow as a person and learn more about what gives me consolation. Serving as a volunteer allows me to love the Lord and the world by sharing my time, talents and gifts.”

  • Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“I want to volunteer with PBMR because the work they are doing is important, necessary and more need to be involved. In the world we are living in today, there needs to be more healing, reconciliation, understanding, support and hope and that is what PBMR does. PBMR inspires and actively works to better the lives of those they encounter. They have many ministries that take care of the whole person and the situation they are in. To those who society wants to forget or ignore or lost faith PBMR acknowledges and accompanies them in their personal journey.
When I first learned about PBMR I was reading Just Mercy. Just Mercy is about the criminal justice system and the memoirs of the many injustices of those that are marginalized. The book inspires compassion and justice. The work that PBMR does mirrored what I read. I didn’t know their stories, their pain, sorrow, isolation of the many people that were incarcerated or those who knew someone incarcerated.
PBMR embodies service, justice, solidarity, sustainability, simplicity, community, and reflection. All theses pillars I have grown to incorporate in my life and I want to grow in each. I also want to live more intentionally like those I have met at PBMR, their hearts and minds are aligned.“

  • What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I would hope to be a part of the community of which I’m living in and be a part of the community that I serve. I am hoping to grow in my faith, learn about myself and others. I would hope to be open to God’s grace and live out discernment. I am eager to make lifelong friends and have experiences that will allow for personal growth all while conducting myself in a manner that is respectful and representative of my faith and beliefs. I would expect myself to be present, to be understanding, and to do the best I can.”