Hands on vs. bureaucratic love

Fr. Charles Susai

 We had a visit a few weeks ago from our friend Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a ministry to the homeless here in Austin. 

Alan brought along Fr. Charles Susai of the Missionaries of the Poor, an international Catholic organization serving the poor, the homeless, the destitute, and the abandoned, along with an MOP supporter John Scarpatti, who has been involved with the MOP mission in Kingston, Jamaica, for years.

Alan, like my Jerry, is a visionary.  My mom used to say of Jerry, “That man reminds me of that old song that goes ‘Now what makes that little old ant, think he'll move that rubber tree plant…'”

“Whoops!  There goes another rubber tree plant!”

I'm sure similar things were said about Alan.  Currently he is working on a plan for what you might call homes for the homeless, 27 acres in far East Austin with shelters ranging from sturdy platform tents to tiny cottages and RVs, with lots of outdoor space and barbecue pits and benches and gardens and chicken runs and areas for contemplation. 

Alan says, “You know, lots of homeless people really just like being outside.” 

At our Friday night dinner we talked of many things.  The men stayed overnight in our cabins here in the Village, and the next day Jerry picked them up for a tour of Down Home Ranch

Needless to say, Fr. Charles was astounded by our real estate here at the Ranch.  We serve our 32 Ranchers in large, beautiful homes, with private bedrooms for all, surrounded by other buildings that offer room for recreation, education, and job training.

Fr. Charles and his brothers serve the 600 souls in his keeping in pavilions open on four sides to the tropical sun and rain, with modest structures for the hospice patients and the ill.

Naturally, by the end of their visit, Jerry and I had signed on to go to Jamaica in September for a five-day stint with Alan and his entire staff.  We will get a chance to work for a few days with the MOP brothers in service to Kingston's poor, face to face. 

“Sure you want to do this?” Alan asked before he left.

“Don't worry!” I said, “I've done it all.”

And we have.  The first year we did camp we became intimately involved with strangers' bodily functions, learned that you can't leave a camper alone in a bathroom with a full can of Comet (don't ask), and that applying sunblock can occupy more of your working day than you ever could have imagined.

We ran Gabriel House for 4 1/2 years, and those were in many ways the most satisfying years of my 20 so far at the Ranch.  I loved cooking for the guys, who loved eating my food.  I loved their brotherly interactions with Kelly, still in high school and considered the pesky little sister of the house.

We had no weekends off, and both continued in our day jobs as Executive Director and Program Director.  Gabriel House was our life.

Since then my work has step by step taken me further and further away from what I call “hands-on” love.  I now spend my days in what I call “bureaucractic love,” since resuming the post of Program Director in May. 

You don't have to remind yourself what hands-on love means.  It's immediate, you're there, the object of your love, your service, stands before you in the flesh.

Spending hours filling in forms, gathering information, training staff, figuring out schedules, reporting to agencies, going to meetings…I have to stop during the day and remind myself why I am doing this. 

Sometimes the forms, the meetings, the agency reports distance me so from the reality of why the Ranch was founded I have to bop down to the Pavilion to mingle with our Ranchers, hear the rumor of the day, and get a hug or two to get centered again.

Jerry and I are both in our 70s, and I guess in Jamaica we'll find out if we actually can still do it all, especially in the tropical heat.  Regardless, this whole experience has been good as we refocus our priorities for the Ranch and return to our original vision, look back at how we got from there to here, and consider what it all means.

I have had a decades-long fascination with and interest in St. Benedict, and this time around as Program Director know that I was ill-equipped to take on the task of shepherding of souls who were employees of the Ranch.  I made lots of mistakes with the best of intentions.  I have tried to learn from those mistakes.

So daily, I ask St. Benedict, who wrote the book on management with his Rule of St. Benedict, for his intercession and guidance in my role as I support the work of those who now do provide the hands-on love to our Ranchers.

And I can't help but notice that our schedule in Jamaica will include morning, evening, and night prayer and daily Mass and contemplation.

In other words, to do this work well, we must connect to the Source of why we do it at all.