Passionate friend and story teller, Alfonso Sasieta, Assistant and Home Life Leader at Euclid 2014-2018 reflected upon his time at L’Arche in a sermon at 8th Day Faith Community this summer. Below are excerpts from his message.
Growing up, we would always begin church with the spoken words of the call-and-response time of confession. Below are the words I spoke every Sunday during my childhood:
“O almighty God, I a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You…to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.”
For twenty years, every Sunday, I said those words. I claimed this identity of “poor, miserable sinner.” First and foremost, a poor, miserable sinner. For whatever reason, my tradition could not keep it at sinner and added “poor” and “miserable.” And as you read, we were worthy of “temporal and eternal punishment.”
The power and harshness of those words were part of the reason that I arrived to L’Arche four years ago as a young man quite hard on himself.
A few months into my time here, I remember vividly one night in which I was at a neighborhood park after a hard day at L’Arche. I was feeling down on myself for worrying about what other people were thinking about me, for not saying or doing the right thing, for not being brave enough in a particular moment. Crisely, a fellow assistant and at the time my girlfriend, was listening to me attentively as I worked out what I was feeling; it took me a long time to put words to the fact that I was feeling shame. Eventually, in the silence, Crisely spoke three simple words that made no sense to me.
She said: “Alfonso, you’re good.”
I had never heard those particular words before, and I wasn’t sure what to do with them.
Fast forward 4 years, Crisely and I are married. Thanks to many generous friends and family, Crisely and I were able to do an incredible honeymoon trip and travel to different countries for four months visiting family and communities that were important to us. One place that we went to was Taize, a Christian community in France. During this silent retreat, I read a book about the founder of the community and some of his core ideas. One sentence, in particular, jumped off the page at me:
“For Taize (and I will add for L’Arche), the question of human sin does not stand at the center, but rather witnessing to the human predisposition to do good.” In other words, the goodness within us runs deeper and is more at the core of who we are than our shadows. Our capacity to love is deeply sown into the fabric of who we are, quite simply, we are hard-wired to rise to this challenge.
In a similar vein, Paul, a writer in the New Testament, gives a similar, disarming charge to those receiving his letter in Ephesus. He says in simplicity:
“Go, and live a life of love.”
He does not say,
You are a poor miserable sinner.
You have no chance of success.
But rather, he insists:
You are hands and feet.
You are important to the mission,
and as dearly loved children,
go! Live a life of love.
I love a 76-year-old man named Sonny. Sonny is a core member with whom I lived for four years. He is a man with a big laugh and big blessings for the people he loves. Sonny and I have traversed a lot of life together— arguments in the bathroom, napkin shenanigans at the dinner table, surprise birthday parties, and perhaps most memorably, a weeklong trip to France. Despite differences in race and age and disposition and denomination, we have come to a place of deep love for one another.
One poignant moment in our friendship was following one of the hardest times I can ever recall in L’Arche. Our home was helping Sonny, Mo and Andrew move into an accessible apartment in March 2017.
One night, two weeks after our move, I had ended a normal day — about twelve hours of time in Sonny, Mo and Andrew’s new apartment space. I was excited the whole day about attending a prayer service that evening at a retreat space called Dayspring. As it was a church retreat and not a L’Arche event, I wasn’t expected to invite Sonny to come along. However, I knew he would really appreciate a chance to get out of the apartment – away from a home in flux – and he gladly accepted.
We drove the hour to Dayspring quite joyfully. We sang with gusto to music, and Sonny told me stories about a rodeo that he went to years ago with his friend Bob. After a long period of struggle, it was a unique moment of contentment. I wrote this in my journal the next day, on April 14 of 2017:
“Richard Rohr talks about deep time — and contemplation, as the way to enter that deep time…when time seems to stand still. I felt like I had this in me yesterday. The weather and sunset were gorgeous. Sonny had laughed freely for the first time in days. While we were in the car, I thought, “I’m happy to be here as friends.” Later, today, I was able to voice that I love Sonny to a friend. I don’t know why, but it felt so significant to say those words. I’m incredibly thankful to God to be Sonny’s friend.”
Looking back from this moment, I see in myself a growth beyond what I could have imagined. I had made a journey from miserable sinner to grateful friend. I had been graced with a happiness that stemmed from a revelation that I could love…as one caught up in a relationship of love.
When I step into Euclid House at L’Arche,
Not a community turned in on itself,
Not a community heaping shame upon itself…
But rather, I encounter
And a community
With the boldness to trust
that within each of us,
there is a wellspring of inexhaustible goodness
that this life of love to which we aspire —
it is real.
It is the real possibility of our life together.