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    A View from the Pew

    Advent Musings: Maryhouse and Phoenix Theater: Two Different Models of  Eucharist

    Advent Musings: Maryhouse and Phoenix Theater: Two Different Models of Eucharist

    This weekend, after enjoying watching our friend Joe Menino in the award winning play ART and delighting in the premiere of our friend Kathy Menino’s musical The Toymaker’s Apprentice at the Phoenix Theater on East 3rd Street, Pat and I decided to explore the East Village and quite unexpectedly found ourselves standing in front of Maryhouse, the Catholic Worker House founded by Dorothy Day in the Great Depression on 55 East Third Street. After reading Dorothy’s The Long Loneliness, All is Grace, her writings in The Catholic Worker newspaper year after year (the paper still sells for its original one penny per copy) and watching Entertaining Angels about a hundred times, I told Pat that I really needed to enter into this holy ground of Christian revolution, resistance and renewal.

    As several people knocked on the massive double doors to enter Maryhouse, I asked one of them if anyone could visit. “Everyone’s welcome here,” he smiled and beckoned for us to come with him. A tall, serious fellow answered the door and we asked for permission to visit the chapel within. He nodded and we followed Adam, a graduate student at Fordham University who came to Maryhouse often to pray and reflect in the chapel. “Dorothy was waked in this house’s chapel when she died before she was taken to Nativity Church for her funeral,” he told us. As Pat and I climbed the stairs and entered the auditorium where Catholic Worker communities gather weekly to gain perspective and refuel commitment to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken, I found myself wondering how many Friday night talks protested injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms. Occupy Wall Street and the activity in Zuccotti Park must fuel the fire of their discussions these days, I contemplated. (Sure enough, an article in The Catholic Worker written by David McReynolds confirmed my thoughts as I later browsed the December issue of the paper.)

    While Adam and I ventured into a deep theological conversation in the chapel, Pat visited with Janice, who wandered into the small space holding a cup of hot chocolate like a lottery ticket. Janice lived at Maryhouse. Homeless with a dwindling memory and failing health, I wondered where this gentle soul would be buried, who would mourn her passing from the world as she left it without any possessions of her own except her body and soul. I hugged Janice before I left and told her I loved her. She simply smiled and sipped her hot chocolate. “Merry Christmas, guys,” a big fellow in a wheelchair wished us as he swigged his liter bottle of Coke. “Hope it’s a good one,” he added cheerily as we departed. When Pat and I left the shelter of the house and stepped by into East Village, I looked back at the building and marveled that each day in this place food is served, clothes are washed, coffee is made, dishes are washed, all by volunteers who give up their own needs and desires in service of those who have the least in this world. Taste of food, touch of hands, sound of voices in community and partnership echo through the hallways and resonate in the auditorium that the reign of God is real, here and now in this place.

    Later, sitting in a coffee shop to warm up from the December cold, I read a letter from the Phoenix Theater Ensemble found in the program from the shows we’d seen on Friday and Saturday night. Suddenly, I found myself doing an internal comparison of Maryhouse and The Phoenix Theater, whose mission seem to juxtapose on every level. “Phoenix is fueled and funded by our passion and yours, for the importance of the human story, the communion of live theater and the living breathing learning lesson of one another’s humanity that is to be found when we all gather together here in the sacred space we call the theater.” The board members of the ensemble who create the productions accept no pay for their labors. In their belief that they theater belongs to everyone, they institute a pay-what-you-can policy: no one is turned away at the door because they cannot afford a ticket. Phoenix Theater Ensemble insures economic justice and walks the talk by insuring payment for the other actors and production staff while they go without. In other words, they labor on behalf of those who hunger for beauty, community, creativity to provide for those who may not otherwise experience art and supply work for artists who may not otherwise work because of economic decline.

    In my mind, Maryhouse and Phoenix Theater Ensemble both live in solidarity with those who hunger, those who thirst, and those who need and have not. When people ask me what Occupy Wall Street Movement wants, this is the real deal. Eucharist. The Body of Christ at work on behalf of one another so that all may eat, all may drink, all may wear clothes (even costumes) and share community. Economic justice for everyone. Life to the full, no matter where that life may be found. For me, Advent became incarnate in my East Village experience this weekend.

    What changed you this Advent?