"this place"

Yesterday was busy. I helped Florence (a live-in volunteer here from Nigeria) cook for the celebration feast, and a homeless couple showed up at the door and ended up joining us for the meal. Great food. Then there was a presentation about the history of the Catholic Worker and this house in particular. Followed by stories by six former volunteers. And then a discussion about the differences between the house as it was years ago and how it is now, with a focus on the current challenges.

Being very new here, I guess I had an outsider perspective of the conversation. And one thing I noticed was a lot of emphasis on "this place."

The former volunteers saw this place as very special, somewhere where things were different from the rest of society, somewhere where it was easier to live as we ought to live. Though each of them were significantly influenced by their time here, they are now in pretty mainstream jobs (though they still do volunteer in other ways). One woman said leaving here was very hard, because she didn't know where else she could live like she did here. So they look back on this place with nostalgia. But they seem to have not been able to maintain the life away from here, or find another place comparable.

The present volunteers emphasized "this place" in a different way. They're in the midst of a bit of a political struggle here. There are some in leadership here who have made it more institutional and created a strong financial support base, to ensure the survival of this place. But several of the live-in volunteers think this has changed the nature of the house, making it more controlled and impersonal. They would like to have a greater say in the running of this place in order to make it a more authentic "Catholic Worker" house (poor, open to all, chaotic, exciting).

But all the talk about "this place" concerned me. Is it really so important? Is a place like this really so crucial to living a Christlike life? Is it so important that we should struggle for control of it?

Yesterday morning at mass, the gospel reading was the parable of the talents (Mt 25.14-30). This passage often troubled me, because it uses investment imagery that is often misinterpreted to suggest that Jesus was interested in economic or political success. But I began to feel better about it when I recognized that Jesus was not talking about material things. He never considered money or worldly success to be "treasure":

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Mt 6.19-20)

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Mt 19.21)
And then there's this:
"The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil." (Mt 12.35)
For Jesus, the treasure we accumulate is not wealth or success but becoming a better person. The treasure is ourselves. That's always what Jesus was interested in, and that's what we will bring before God at judgment, not money or ministerial institutions or "this place"—just ourselves, who we have become, who we are in relation to Jesus.

So I believe that's what we should emphasize and invest our time and effort in: becoming more Christlike people. Jesus did not invest himself in building or preserving or struggling for control of places or things. He focused on being perfect himself, as an example and inspiration and challenge to help others become like him too. Treasures themselves.