Thank you, Father Paul, for the chance to reflect on the readings and share about Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services during our annual appeal for the poor. My name is Bill Hallerman and I have worked at CCS for the past 23 years, and been a parishioner at Holy Family in Kirkland for those 23 years.
The readings today are wonderful readings that tie to the work of CCS and CHS. In the first reading from Isaiah, written in the 6th century B.C., Isaiah is speaking to the Jewish people who been in exile in Babylon for 60 years. Isaiah’s words are these “Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem….” The Jewish people, who really at this time are a suffering and displaced people, are being given comfort and then being encouraged to look forward, to the moment when they are going home. So much of Advent is this looking forward, just like we look forward to Jesus’ coming at Advent, so too the Jewish people were looking forward to going home...
When I think about the work of Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services I think that on our best days, we are trying to live out these words of Isaiah. We walk with the suffering and displaced people in our times and our community, and we try and create home for those folks, we try and create comfort for them, we try and walk with them looking forward in their lives and remind them that they are not defined by their past, just as the Jewish people were not defined by the exile.…..The existence of this parish, Christ our Hope, co-located with both a housing facility and a hygiene facility for homeless women, is an affirmation of the vision of advent that the church reminds us of in the readings today.
I remember when my office was upstairs in this building, and they were talking about the vision of Christ our Hope, and there were some who said putting catholic parishioners and folks that have been homeless or very, very poor is a recipe for disaster. And sure there may be times where it is frustrating and hard, but you can get consolation from the words of Isiah later in the first reading “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our god”.
For people that are struggling with homelessness and poverty our times, our world can feel like a wasteland. And Isiah and our God call all of us to make a highway for our God. That highway is Christ our Hope, it is the Josephinum, it is the Woman’s Wellness Center, it is all the places where Catholic Community Services and Catholic people and parishes and other people of good faith do this work of bringing God’s extraordinary love and care for the poor to folks that need it. In this past year alone, CCS and CHS brought that care to over 100,000 men, women and children suffering from poverty and homelessness each day. Your partnership enables us to respond to them, wrapping them with healing and hope, and in the words of Mark’s gospel today “preparing the way of the Lord and make straight his paths”.
What is always amazing to me is how we as Catholic people understand that we have a special call to take care of the poor…… it is our special way of making this highway for our God. We hear about it so much in the readings of advent. It comes from the gospel stories of Jesus incredible compassion and concern for outcasts and lepers in his day, and from the lessons we learned as kids to love both God and our Neighbor. But I can tell you it is a gift for our times…… we respond from the deepest part of our heart when we see people in need, and our world needs that.
Right now, in Beaumont Texas, where Hurricane Harvey hit so very hard, Catholic Community Services has staff helping the families who were devastated by the Hurricane. We have sent 12 staff so far, and will send another 10 before we are finished in February of next year. We are down there because the Catholic Community Services from Beaumont Texas had put out a call for help. They cover 9 counties in Texas, where Harvey dumped 65 inches of rain in 3 days and they had 3 staff to work on disaster response: in fact, the whole agency has only 18 staff in all of their agency, as they try and help over 200,000 people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
I was fortunate enough to go to Texas after the Hurricane and spent one day at a distribution center that Catholic Charities had set up. My job was greeting cars and passing out FEMA information to cars that were lined up to get water, diapers, food and cleaning supplies from the Catholic Charity Warehouse. That line was miles and miles long, and it was literally a highway for our God. I talked with hundreds and hundreds of people that day. What was amazing about the day was the thankfulness of the people. There were folks broken, having a really hard time, and there were folks who were just happy no one had died in their family and they would rebuild. What struck me was that all of them were so thankful for us being there, Again and again they would ask me where in Beaumont, or where in Texas are you from? I would say from Seattle Texas, it is the wet part of Texas. Many of them would shake our hands and say thank you so much for caring about us.
As I would reflect on that later, I was just thinking how so much of what Catholic Community Services is able to do with our staff and our volunteers is because of the support that catholic folks in the pews like yourselves give us, When we see people suffering like the victims of the Hurricane are, or when we see people on our streets here suffering from homelessness, CCS responds not just with our faith , but with the faith of thousands of catholic people. It is no accident that Catholic Community Services is the largest non-profit in the state of Washington. It is that because we do so in your name, with your support, your faith, and your understanding that God calls us all to take care of the poor. And that care and that support and that faith really makes people lives better, it makes this world better, and points us forward just like Isaiah did to the Jewish people 2600 years ago.
I will leave you with one story that showed me how much we can learn about what comfort and home can mean to the folks we help.
Much like Hurricane Harvey, in Hurricane Katrina, CCS went down to coordinate volunteers to help with the recovery. On one day we were in Biloxi with a group of about 15 students from Blanchet High School and we met an elderly woman, whose house was about 100 yards from the water and had been completed flooded, all the way to the roof. We were there to take everything she owned out of the house, and put it in the road where dump trucks would pick it up. She was still grieving for all of this, she talked of how she had lived her whole life there, and how painful it was to watch her things go in the street.
We not only put everything in the house in the street, but we had to take all of the sheet rock off of the walls and throw it out in the street as well. Nothing could be left in the house but the 2 by 4 studs, to be treated for mold so that you could rebuild there.
2 young students come up to me…and ask me to come with them……They took me to a wall that was in the corner of the kitchen and the living room… They said I don’t think we should knock this out… and I said why not, and they said, see what is here……. What was there were lines made with a pencil going up the wall with the heights and the names of her kids. They said to me it just doesn’t seem right to knock this down, should we maybe cut it out as one piece and give it to her. I said sure. We did and I said let’s go over and you two can give it to her.
They brought it over to her and she burst into tears and grabbed them both and the 3 of them just held each other. It seemed like 20 minutes that they held each other, and she kept whispering thank you, thank you so much.
I think of that day often, of what I learned from those wonderful girls, and how then as now, the resources for us to bring the comfort that Isiah talked about, to make a highway, to make a path for that women, came from our CCS week collections like this one.
So I ask you again today because to consider a gift to our annual CCS appeal for the Poor. You can find one of these envelopes in your pews,
[hold-up an envelope] and many of you may have gotten them mailed to you, and you can put them in the collection or take them home and mail them in. If you give on line or by text that info is on here as well.
Know that 25% of all the gifts collected today will be returned to Christ Our Hope for all your ministries to the poor.
In closing, I wish you and your family a blessed Advent and Christmas.
Bill Hallerman, CCS King County Agency Director
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