Fight the New Drug

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***To see my featured talk "How Love Defeats Porn" given at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. click here. ***

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dear Syracuse,

[T-minus 24 hours until we leave for Costa Rica]

It would be impossible to try to cover everything that has happened in the last two weeks of FrancisCorps training.  Actually, my house mate Jordan gives a pretty entertaining summary at his blog  at  if anyone is interested.  And I've been dying to journal this whole time but every day it was a battle between hanging out with everyone and journaling, and those guys won every day.

What I want to write down, while the Syracuse people are at work, and my Costa Rican housemates have not woken yet, is my gratefulness for six individuals.

To back it up ("I can back it up"), FrancisCorps is composed of 11 volunteers, recent college graduates from universities ranging from Notre Dame, Georgetown, CUA, Syracuse, St. John's (Minnesota), Cornell, Scranton, and Dayton.  Five of us will be headed to Costa Rica tomorrow to begin our ministry/journey there while the other six have already started working this week here in Syracuse.  We'll reunite again in July 2011 when our service is over.

Yesterday, the CR crew went with our director Bro. Jim to each of the Syracuse sites to see our friends in their element.  And it was yesterday where my eyes opened.  Having volunteered for numerous things, I've gotten the impression that volunteer work is good, but many times a bonus, we're not necessarily needed, as much as we help, the people we serve could still live their lives without us.

After yesterday, I saw a different kind of volunteering that opposes my last statement.  These Syracuse volunteers were used, they were integral parts of their organizations whether that be at Catholic Charities refugee resettlement, at the food pantry/medical clinic, at the Dorothy Day safe house for women and children, at the Latino after-school day care, or at the L'Arche house for disabled elderly.  At each site it became obvious that each of them were treated as full-time employees, and that if they weren't working, work wouldn't get done.  Wow.

And there's two things that really impress me with this. (Before I say the first, I'm sure these types of things happen in careers, and I'm a big believer that service and ministry happen in jobs all the time, it doesn't have to be titled service to be service; however the only difference is that these guys don't get paid.)

First, each and one of these Syracuse peeps are smart, intelligent, attractive, they have all the opportunity in the world in front of them, several of them are future med students, yet ("or is it still...") they spend their days dealing with inefficient paper work at a refugee center, peeling red rings from bologna, getting on all fours to clean a pee-stained bathroom, getting told off by a safe home mom, or being in charge of 10 Latino children at the State Fair.  And they do it with a smile on their face, rolled-off-the-shoulders attitude, and compassion for people at their sites.

Second, and this is the part I feel guilty, is that they do all of this at a site city (Syracuse) which isn't all that attractive.  Many volunteers, me one of them, Romanticize about serving and being part of the poor in a third-world country, or at the hardcore cities like Harlem or Camden.  Not Syracuse, NY.  And that in itself says something about these six individuals.  Yes, they're in it for the program FrancisCorps, but they're in it for the work and for the people here.  Nothing else. Not Syracuse or the opportunity to try different foods or to learn how to Tico dance.  And I'm humbled by that.  Bro. Jim says it's hard to recruit people to such an unappealing position, but he says that once they get here, they love it and don't want to leave.  I believe it.

So Syracuse, and by Syracuse I mean, Molly, Monsy, Mike, Tim, Jeanie, and Amy, tomorrow the other five of us leave for Costa Rica.  We hope that we can emulate the ethic and example we have seen through you in our own work sites.  You have inspired to do better before we have even started. Know that we will be in solidarity together throughout this year ( :) ) .

We are grateful for the close bonds we have created, and hope to continue as this year progresses, via Skype, e-mail, Facebook, Eucharist, and prayers.  Thank you for the laughter ("Yeah baby get some!", "I'm literally sweating right now" "It's a peacock mating dance"), the tears ("and then Jesus washed their feet"), the surprises ("want to go swimming?"), the take aways ("Build you foundation so you are invincible to the opposition." " was at that point, where I decided it was no longer about my desires, but God's desires."), and the moments (preprandials, cooking, eating, drinking, late night dancing, gaming, volleyballing, praying, and more laughing.)

Sometimes the Gospel can just be as simple as love and friendship.  Because of your example, we have no words left to say.

Matt, Jelly, Tom, Jordan, and Brittany

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