Like the Kintsugi Bowl, broken pottery brought back to life by mending and accentuating breakages, so Jesus does for us, making us better than we were, says Troy Davies. Photo from Wikipedia

CSS’ inspiration drawn from Jesus the servant

  • December 2, 2023

A humble Christ, washing the feet of His disciples, is the inspiration that drives Edmonton’s Catholic Social Services to do what it does, says Dr. Troy Davies. 

Davies, the CEO of Catholic Social Services (CSS), told the crowd attending his lecture at St. Mary’s University in Calgary on Nov. 23 that Christ’s example of service is all the inspiration the agency needs.

“In a world that teaches us to lead with power, ego and a puffed up sense of swagger, He shows us that we have it all upside down,” said Davies, who then flourished a small towel in his right hand. “Instead, we are to lead with this — Catholics lead with a towel. He said, ‘I come among you as one who serves. If I, your master, have washed your feet, then you are to wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example, so you should also do.’ ”

Davies’ presentation, titled Inspiration Unplugged - The Filthy Feet of Sacred Service: What Happens When Prayer Gets Off Its Knees, demonstrated that CSS is taking the towel to serve men, women and children. The organization’s team of over 2,000 employees and 400 volunteers provides social support to more than 20,000 Albertans annually in the 12 Edmonton archdiocese communities it operates within. 

Among the CSS collection of services, the organization leads establishments that support immigrants and refugees, people struggling with addictions, persons living with developmental disabilities, women facing a crisis pregnancy, lonely senior citizens, homeless youth seeking a fresh start and families and individuals seeking counselling. 

Davies, formerly the superintendent of schools in the STAR Catholic School Division in central Alberta before joining CSS in 2018, shared the story of Savannah, a client of CSS Gianna Centre pregnancy resource establishment in Edmonton in 2022. The woman, eight months into her pregnancy, had spent months sleeping on the bare floor of her apartment as she was alone and lacked the resources to purchase a bed. A leader at Gianna Centre immediately phoned a mattress store, and later that same day, Savannah slept in a bed for the first night in a long time. 

He also told the story of John, a man from Grande Prairie whose granddaughter in Lethbridge was sick in the hospital. John’s daughter was in no position to take care of the child. He was identified as the closest relative. His love for grandchild spurred him to frantically hop in his vehicle without much thought into how he could feasibly drive nine hours to Lethbridge and back. The elderly man was on a fixed income. At this moment, his bank account was nearly empty.

The gas gauge got dangerously low as he pulled into Red Deer. Still three-and-a-half hours from his destination, the grandfather had no more money for fuel.

“Desperate, he was, and afraid, he prayed for a sign,” recounted Davies. “‘God, give me a sign that somehow I will be able to manage this and get to Lethbridge, and I will be able to get my granddaughter.’ A little while after that prayer, he was now in the City of Red Deer and his car did start to die. It eventually stalled out on a street in Red Deer. He was broken. He was as emotionally empty as his gas gauge was physically. He put his hands and his head on his wheel, rested and felt like a frozen failure.

“After a minute or two he looked up, as the sun was rising, outside his window to a gray building in Red Deer with words in big blue letters, Sign of Hope,” continued Davies. “Sign of Hope is one of the branches of Catholic Social Services. He literally stalled outside of our office. He broke down in tears as he knew this was the sign he prayed for just moments ago.”

John walked into the office and met CSS worker Susie, who leads the non-profit’s St. Zita program, which provides immediate emergency aid for people caught up in different difficult circumstances. He shared his story, and Susie responded big time. She armed him with enough gift cards to get him to his destination and back home. She packed him a bag of groceries to sustain him on the road. Knowing he was picking up his baby granddaughter, Susie packed some diapers, baby formula and a blanket stitched with prayers.

Reflecting on Jesus at the Last Supper, Davies imagines the bowl of water to be metaphorically akin to the Japanese ceramic Kintsugi Bowl. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with glue coating mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.

“Rather than disguising the cracks in the bowl, the potter actually accents them,” said Davies. “The bowl is more beautiful than before. The cracks in the bowl are nothing to be ashamed of. The cracks are a part of the bowl’s story.

“I like to imagine the bowl’s broken pieces as representing each one of us. All of us are broken in some way, but Jesus is the golden glue. He pieces our brokenness back together and makes us more beautiful than we were before. He fills that bowl with rejuvenating water. He gets down on His knees, washes our feet and whispers in our ears the secret about ourselves. ‘Yes, Troy, you are broken, but you are also beautiful. Go and do this, in addition to the Eucharist, in remembrance of me. Serve. Go be the golden glue for someone else. Go restore the wholeness to other people’s lives.’ ”

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