March 7, 2013
by Dr. Paul R. Ahr, President & CEO, Camillus House
Two years ago, I wrote that the original Camillus House felt to me like a “thin-place” as described by Canadian writer Molly Wolf. She describes a thin-place as a site where one experiences:
…a sense of something peaceful and yet gloriously alive: of Joy lurking somewhere in the landscape… the thin-place places and the thin-place people don't judge us; they call us, fetch us, offer us the startling gift of grace, get lodged deep in our inmost selves. They tell us, here, this is what Love tastes like, this is what Love's supposed to be. [Emphasis added.]
Love, love, love.
In his commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Fordham Professor Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ references a distinction between self-seeking love and self-giving love as presented by Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren. Marshall, Mary and Wardell, three Camillus staff members who have successfully made the transition from addiction and homelessness to productive work through intentional learning, tell me that for persons addicted and living on the street there is another type of love: a self-sustaining love.
Self-sustaining love consists of doing whatever is necessary in order to survive. Even the capacity to enter into meaningful and gratifying reciprocal relationships with other persons — that is, to engage in shared self-seeking love — is often a casualty of pursuing self-sustaining love. In a similar way, persons who are not capable of recognizing their own basic self-worth — that is, persons who are incapable of seeing themselves as loveable — are limited in their ability to invest themselves in others.
To be sure, each of Camillus House's current 1,000 residents, clients and guests reflects a mix of self-sustaining, self-seeking and self-giving intentions and capabilities. Nevertheless, especially for our Day Center and residential treatment clients served at the main Camillus site, we are privileged to watch first-hand their transformation out of their self-sustaining modes. In many ways, this transformation derives from their ability to count on the reliability of Camillus' shower program, clothing room, mail room and nutritious meals, the latter an example of the Brothers' enduring perspective that a full stomach improves the morale of hungry people and makes them better able to deal with life's challenges. Meanwhile, socialization activities and competent case management help develop healthy self-seeking encounters focusing on building a sustainable support network and lasting friendships.
For those persons who have survived extended periods of addiction and homelessness, the embrace of the Camillus community of healers and helpers confirms the wisdom of our clients' personal decisions to “surrender to the power of their addictions” and seek the help they need to move on with their lives. This choice promotes both beneficial self-seeking love and generous self-giving love. According to Marshall, Mary and Wardell, it is primarily through the sincerity — the authentic generosity, concern and affection of our Brothers and staff — that our guests, clients and residents become able to transition from self-sustaining to self-giving love.
Over the next two weeks we will expand on the theme of loving sincerely by reflecting first on the contributions of two former Camillus staff who displayed a remarkable love for our clients and then on our invitation to all who join us — Brothers, benefactors, volunteers, staff, guests, clients and residents — to love God by loving one another.
Love is everywhere, I see it.
As our new Norwegian Cruise Line campus begins to take shape, both in terms of the completion of construction and the enrollment of guests, clients and residents, it's beginning to look a lot like this site, too, may be a place where joy lurks and love lives.
Perhaps what we are experiencing is best described in the first verses of John Denver's 1976 song, Love is Everywhere:
Love is everywhere, I see it.
You are all that you can be, go on and be it.
Life is perfect, I believe it.
Come and play the game with me.
Open yourself to the first celebration.
Open your eyes to the joy and pain.
Life is the fruit of your own creation.
Every new birth is a soul regained.
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