Fr. Dave's Notes
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Casa Romero Celebrates 20 Years

 

There is a prayer that begins:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

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This well-known prayer, often called “Romero’s Prayer,” but which was written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan reflects on the development of God’s Kingdom here inhuman history. It is about stopping, taking a deep breath (ministerially speaking) and seeing the bigger picture. And the bigger picture for Christians involves wonder and mystery and awe.

​​Casa Romero Renewal Center celebrates its 20th Birthday this year, a milestone hardly thought possible when it all began.

What is now a warm and lovely space was not always so. When I first saw her in 1998, she was a one hundred plus year building – and looked it. While she had loving care from the School Sisters of Notre Dame who had always lived there, she had much less care when it came to her physical well-being. When, for instance, the wind blew at the windows from the outside, the curtains on the inside billowed as well. There was barely enough electricity for a couple of lights and one appliance. Rainwater on the outside often heralded rainwater on the inside. She was not much to look at, either. She had been vacant for several years and a local gang had broken in to vandalize, leaving graffiti everywhere and many holes in the walls. She wore too many layers of paint and was, in appearance, poorly groomed. This lady was a wreck.

Many Native American tribes believe that the spirits work through nature and animals to communicate with, encourage, and even warn human beings. The world, in its many aspects, is really one for them. For example, when one’s totem animal appears, this may portend good things, but if you see a night owl and hear it hoot, you or someone close to you may be in mortal danger. Westerners put little credence in such things, of course. Until a person experiences it.

Abraham Heschel once prayed, “God, do not make me a saint, but give me wonder.”

What I am saying is that this old, used up and unattractive building called my name. No, not out loud. But somewhere else. “David, I was built for German speaking people; now I want to speak Spanish, “whispered the voice.

Enchanted, I ceased to see her as she was but only as she could be. I talked all about my vision to anyone who would listen. “Hey, this empty building is perfect for an affordable and accessible urban retreat center.”  Enchantment is a wonderful state. However, reactions to all this ran from polite silence to skepticism to utter dismay. But once the Other calls your name, what can you do?

Then at a breakfast, the parish’s pastor, the parish council president, the Archdiocesan Hispanic Ministries director, an Archdiocesan parish liaison, and a parish member gathered to consider the question, Well, what do you think?”

“OK, as long as it doesn’t cost the parish money, “replied the pastor. Which to me meant, “Full steam ahead!”  For me as a Jesuit, this was a mission to a new frontier: an underfinanced and underserved immigrant urban community. Frontiers are the Jesuit thing. We are most comfortable there.

Over these 20 years, Casa Romero has responded to the needs of Milwaukee’s Latinx community in many ways. Initially, the idea of the Center was to provide retreats and programming for adults and parents and families. Soon, the invitation came to serve middle and high school youth. And by and by, programming for leadership formation arose. Over the last 20 years, Casa Romero tried many things, has had many successes, and has learned from many efforts that did not come out as expected. As the prayer continues:

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

Statistics on the longevity of nonprofits vary, but it seems that 30% fail within 10 years and the majority are gone within 15 years. So as Casa Romero Renewal Center celebrates its 20th Birthday, what is the secret of its long life? Divine will, I believe. God, through this building, whispered a dream to me. Then God whispered into many other ears – loyal supporters, volunteers, faithful and hard-working team members, representatives of various funding sources – “Join me in building my Kingdom.”

Casa Romero is less a human endeavor that invokes Divine assistance than a divine enterprise managed by humans for humans, with all the ups and downs which that implies.

Casa Romero has been successful because we gratefully remember the wonder of our being here, for the grace of knowing that we are part of something so much larger than ourselves, but which wouldn’t be the same without us and for the faith to journey with God into an unwritten future. Our achievements are not about us; our achievements are those that live in the hearts of those who profited from knowing us.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.