Monday, December 16, 2013

Real friends with the poor

This morning as I sat in my pew at Mass, I looked around and noticed all the empty pews in front of me.  There were a few rows of schoolchildren in uniforms, a handful of elderly ladies, the usual crowd. And the thought crossed my our church a church for the rich? O my sweet Jesus, where are Your poor?

I began to envision the pews filled with the poor of General Cepeda.  The women bundled in oversized winter coats, struggling to keep warm.  The children, smiling shyly and huddled beside their mothers.  The men, a little standoffish at first, standing silent but attentive. Why are our churches in America empty of the poor?

Let me first ask myself: when was the last time I invited a poor family or a woman on the street to accompany me to church?

It's so easy to look at them as different, as "other."  It's so easy for me to donate to charitable organizations and consider my obligation fulfilled.  But Jesus didn't ask me to write a check in support of the poor and the unwanted.  Jesus asked me to love them.  And love is personal.

Am I open to the idea of becoming real friends with the poor?

As Christmas approaches and we prepare for gatherings with family and friends, let's consider Jesus' words as he dined at the home of a Pharisee:

"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you."

Maybe you can be Jesus to someone this Christmas.  Maybe you can be a real friend to the poor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Update: Missions in Mexico

Buenas tardes!

We've been in General Cepeda, Mexico, for almost 2 weeks now.  Every day is somewhat similar to our training back in Louisiana -- community prayer, classes, Scripture study, chores -- but here we have the added joy of being able to serve the Mexican people.

In the mornings, we go on home visits to people living here in General and just outside of town.  Some are very poor -- imagine curtains hanging in place of doors, bare walls, and nearly empty two-room or three-room houses -- yet their faith is so rich.  When we visit, we typically read a Bible passage with them, sing praise songs, and ask if we can help with any of their immediate needs (bringing them warm blankets or filling a medical prescription for them).  They are all so grateful for the time we spend with them, especially those who are elderly or sick and rarely have visitors.

In the evenings, we drive out to the ranchos -- little towns isolated far out in the desert, some with as few as 15 or 20 families.  There are no churches in the ranchos, just little chapels where the people can gather to pray. Some ranchos will receive visits from priests rather frequently, but in others it may be many months in between such visits, meaning the people are not able to receive the sacraments.  Of course, as lay missionaries we cannot celebrate the sacraments for them, but we can bring the light of Christ to their community.  We share testimonies of what Jesus has done in our lives, and we teach them about the Catholic faith.  Most importantly, we pray with them!  Many of the people we meet are sick, out of work, struggling within their families, or wrestling with addictions like alcoholism.  Jesus promised His apostles that if they laid hands on the sick, they would recover.  We trust that Jesus will do the same through us today!

Our mission work here has given me a greater understanding of what it means to have childlike faith.  In the U.S., we tend to be skeptics; we're always looking for sound reasoning and scientific evidence.  We act as though faith in God is something we should be able to prove.  But it's just the opposite!  The poor people of General Cepeda have no need for empirical "proof" that God exists.  They believe it simply because they wake up every morning.

The faith of the poor puts my shallow faith to shame.  Never in my life have I been unable to afford what I need.  And yet what we might consider necessities are often their luxuries.  One elderly woman we visited had only a scrub brush to comb her hair.  But you never hear the poor complain about their needs.  Instead, they are constantly expressing their gratitude for everything God has given them.  How it warms your heart and makes you blush with embarrassment over your earthly riches whenever one of these little ones, God's precious poor, exclaims, "Gloria a Dios!"

Yes, glory to God!  He is so good to us.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy All Saints' Day!

I certainly felt as though I was surrounded by the communion of saints tonight as we joined together in singing and praising Jesus!  I can't believe this is my life -- I am so blessed!  In just one week we will be arriving in General Cepeda, Mexico. What adventures await me there I do not know, but I am sure Jesus has much in store for us.

Tonight we heard stories from three of our missionaries who have served at this particular mission post before, and their consensus was that, although General is one of the poorest places in Mexico, it's where they learned true generosity. Because who understands generosity better than the poor, who give out of their need?

I can't wait to be there.  I pray for an open heart so that I will be blown away by the experience of finding Christ in the people I serve.  I pray that Jesus will protect the joy that is now overflowing in my heart, that I may shine His love to everyone I meet.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Missionary love

"How do you know God loves you?"

It's a common question, especially in our world that seems to be wrought with suffering and injustice.  A theologian or philosopher could write volumes on this topic, but I am only a humble missionary and have neither the knowledge nor the understanding to read or write such a treatise.  Then again, I do not need it.

I know God loves me because of a jacket. 

Today I spotted one of my missionary sisters wearing a colorful zippered jacket - it caught my eye immediately and struck me as something I might have bought for myself and loved to wear.  Without really thinking, I teased her, "If you ever want to get rid of that jacket, I'd gladly take it off your hands."  She smiled and I noticed a funny look in her eye as she admitted that she had received many compliments on it in the past.  She then confessed, "This morning I told God that, if it was time for me to give it away, He should send me someone who wants it.  And He sent you."

I was completely taken aback, first just at the idea that such a "coincidence" would occur and then at her overwhelming generosity.  She handed it to me, saying, "Wear it with love," and walked off, not even waiting to be thanked.  Totally self-effacing - a gift freely given.

This missionary was Christ to me today.  Jesus' love was made tangible through her seemingly simple action of giving me the coat off her back.  What a beautiful lesson for me to learn, even before I head out to the mission field -- that true love holds nothing back and has no reservations when it comes to giving of oneself.  True love does not concern itself with whether or not there will be enough "left over" or with having sufficient provisions for the future.  True love just gives.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sing praise!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that's within me shout out!

Every Friday night is praise and worship night in the Big Woods community, and I can't imagine a more beautiful or more joyful way to end the week.  We gather together, lifting our hands and raising our voices in song to worship the one true King and to proclaim His love for us.  For me, it's a time for total abandonment, to let go of my desire to control the world around me and to instead place all my trust in the God who knows my every need.

Tonight we also took the opportunity to pray over any members of the community who expressed particular needs.  Each of us is wounded in some way or carrying some unnecessary burden, and what better way to ask for healing than to approach God's throne together.  Jesus said to His disciples, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Well, I have no doubt that He heard our prayers tonight, considering there were more than 30 of us all praying in unison!

It's amazing to see how vulnerable we can be with each other.  Because the community is truly becoming a family, we are able to share our weaknesses and most intimate struggles without fear of judgment.  I treasure these moments of grace.  Thank You, Jesus, for giving me this place and these people. Thank You, Jesus, for filling my heart with joy!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

A starting place

Three weeks ago I arrived here in Abbeville, Louisiana.  In some ways I feel as though I just moved in and am still adjusting to the daily schedule, to my responsibilities, to this life of prayer, service, study, and fellowship.  At other times it seems like it's been forever, like Big Woods has always been my home and Family Missions Company has always been my family.

The verse on my heart today is from Psalm 133: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"  I am so blessed to be living in this community surrounded by my missionary brothers and sisters.  Of course, there are moments when I long for a little peace and quiet amongst the beautiful chaos that is community life, but that desire is far outweighed by my gratitude when I realize that there is no better place for me to grow in holiness and in love of the Lord.  Every day I am confronted by my weaknesses and human frailty.  And every day I choose again to offer it all back to Jesus -- all my joys and sufferings, all my failures and successes, all of my poverty.  All is His, for the glory of His Kingdom.