Several years ago, a dozen Louisville Catholics were given an abandoned rectory to develop a Catholic Worker house of hospitality. When we began the effort there was no clear path to follow. We prayed, hesitated, attempted a “strategic plan,” but failed to launch the project. Then we were inspired to consult with Joe Zarella, one of Dorothy Day’s original members at the New York Catholic Worker, who was then in his late 80’s.
On a bright autumn day, we lunched with Joe on a picnic table outside a simple mom and pop restaurant and asked him how to start a Catholic Worker house of hospitality. With a twinkle in his eyes and a head of thick snow-white hair he smiled and said simply, “You just do it.”
Taking his advice, we welcomed immigrant women and their children into the large rectory with mismatched donated furniture, creating a noisy, chaotic loving small community of faith and mixed languages.
After several weeks, we hosted all the volunteers to meet the guests around a large dining table filled with special recipes brought by the attendees. As we ate together something stirred within me looking around the crowded room: this is what the reign of God looks like. There were no cultural barriers, no language barriers, no class barriers…love had broken down all barriers.
The utopia described in today’s reading from the book of Isaiah and what I experienced at the Catholic Worker house that night is possible, if we just do it. I am encouraged, as I read Isaiah’s prophetic words, to know that Jesus read the same words in his native language from the same prophet. He must have prayed over them, letting them sink in, letting them transform his understanding of the goodness of his Father and the goodness in himself and the goodness in each of us.
In today’s Gospel, people of every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem sat in the presence of this transformed Jesus…the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the community of a variety of people…all determined in their mission to just sit. This great crowd crushing around Jesus must have included all classes of people from the highways and byways seeking something better in life, the something they hoped Jesus would provide.
Their enthusiasm led them to this house on that day. They wanted what we all want, what the Prophet Isaiah poetically describes in the first reading: a world where all barriers are broken down, where love rules and where we are free to shed what individually weighs us down and keeps us from being all we can be and all that God desires for each of us.
In prayerful reflection, let us sit before Jesus today in stillness to listen to him and to feel his love. This will lead us to moments when we just do it, which leads us to barrier-absent mystical moments when we really know the reign of God is within us and around us.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.