Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reflection for Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

The readings for the day can be found here.

Last month I attended my first Missouri State Reentry Conference at the Lake of the Ozarks. This conference is attended by professionals from correctional programs—jails, prisons, probation and parole—as well as people who work in non-profits who support the successful reentry of ex-offenders back into society after incarceration. I was invited to be part of a panel discussion of HIV and reentry: barriers, challenges and best practices for those reentering society who are HIV+ and are on HIV-related medications. I was impressed with the presentation that one of the biggest barriers than many men face on reentry is their reception and treatment in the halfway house programs in the state. Many of these program staffers have a poor understanding of HIV, HIV transmission, and the demographics of the infection.  When returning to society in a vulnerable state, many ex-offenders encounter criticism, shame and rejection at these agencies, drop out of a structured reentry process, violate terms of their parole, drop out of treatment and endanger their health, and consequently, the health of others. Ironically, most of these programs are run by faith-based organizations. 
We are in a dangerous spot in today’s society when words and beliefs of people of faith and organizations of faith can overshadow the work we are called to do. I am reminded of the phrase often attributed (erroneously or not) to Francis of Assisi: preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words. The hospitality of these faith-based reentry programs, or staffing food pantries, or providing medical care at a neighborhood clinic, can be unnecessarily complicated or even squandered when the words get in the way of simple acts of charity.
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel from Matthew are all about action. These are not subtle or sophisticated; they are not about philosophies or beliefs. They tell about a wise man who builds a house and a fool who does the same. The difference is the building site and this difference is ultimately what determines the outcome of the endeavor.
We at Saint Louis University are in the business of building foundations. In our education, our research and our community service, we are developing patterns and habits that support a lifetime of action. While we hope we also build in all a coherent set of beliefs and a world view that make sense, what, in the end, makes us better people are our actions, not our beliefs. Words can get in the way, beliefs can be built on immaturity and misinformation, but a good deed remains a good deed. And a lifetime of sustained good deeds is what builds a solid foundation.
Advent is a season of both right now and very soon. Just as the God’s people waited and prepared for centuries for the birth of Jesus, they had to attend to their daily activities. Likewise, this season is about both preparation and attending to the matters of the day. They are about words, but ultimately, preparation is action. And our readings today tells us to act in a way that creates a pattern of gratitude, respect, justice and care for our community.
A challenge for today: be quiet and act.

Dr. Fred Rottnek teaches in the School of Medicine and the Interprofessional Education Program, engages in community-based and academic research, and directs the Rodney M. Coe Distinction in Community Service Program and the Service and Advocacy Learning Community. He was recently elected to the Saint Louis Regional Health Commission as the Chair of the Provider Services Advisory Board. In the community, he is a board member of the Criminal Justice Ministry and an advocate for re-entry programming to successfully transition ex-offenders back to the community. At home, he enjoys naps, days without phone calls and keeping his cat’s blog, A Memoir in Progress, updated.

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