Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Reflections: Looking back at my time in LA

Sometimes I watch shows like "America's Got Talent." My little sister earlier today was watching "So You Think You Can Dance" and I was watching a bit of it with her (and making fun of her about it too). I find myself quite inspired by the way these contestants pour out their heart and soul into their work, and you can tell the ones who truly love what they are doing.

This past summer has been filled with experiences in which I have often thought to myself: "I truly love this Jesuit life that I lead." My vocation as a Jesuit is something I have poured my heart and soul into, and I have experienced things I would never had an opportunity to otherwise. Sure, it has had its fill of challenges, but I truly cannot imagine myself at this moment doing anything else. After being in the Society for almost four years now, I am beginning to notice how my Jesuit Spirituality is beginning to shape more and more how I view and experience the world. I find myself finding Christ more and more in the everyday--that Jesuit motto of "Finding God in All Things." It is like a language where, initially, you are spending quite a bit of time just trying to understand the grammar. But, you come to a point when learning a language where you are no longer trying to figure out how to say things. The words just come to you naturally. I find myself beginning to see things as a Jesuit more and more naturally.

One of my desires in my Jesuit life is to work in an educational setting. I think probably high school, but I am not completely opposed to the University setting. Although, my time at Dolores Mission has shown me that I would love to be a pastor as well (if I can avoid the administrative duties). For myself, I have sought to challenge myself in my Jesuit life and to insert myself in places that are not the most comfortable for me with the opinion that the more types of experiences I have, the better I will be able to serve in the future.

This summer, I spent quite some time with the homeless at Dolores Mission and ex-gang members at Homeboys--a segment of the population I have had little interaction with. I didn't want to read about them simply in books--I wanted to get to know them and to build some relationships. In listening to their struggles, their fears, and their hopes, I realized how my life is quite removed from theirs. For example, I don't know what it's like to become homeless because I couldn't pay my medical bills. Yet, anyone in ministerial work must learn how to place themselves in the other's shoes and understand where s/he is coming from in order to communicate more effectively with them. And sometimes, it's not what you say to people--sometimes it is just enough just to be in their company. When you feel yourself oppressed, unloved, and forgotten, sometimes all you need is someone who shows up and believes in you despite what you have been hearing for a majority of your life--someone to become like Christ to you. One homie who graduated from the school at Homeboy's remarked to his teacher: "thank you for believing in me when no one else did. You are the reason I graduated."

Being now at home in Sacramento to visit my family, I am reminded that one of the things I learned from my dad growing up is that when you are generous to others, others will be generous to you. I did my best being generous to this summer experience and to the people I became involved with. In turn, I felt so many people were generous to me. This weekend was filled with beautiful prayers and well-wishes from so many different people. At the 6pm mass this past Sunday, for example, I was invited towards the front of the Church where I was surrounded by quite a number of the GHP men. Their blessing was immensely moving and an experience I will remember for quite some time.

I find myself immensely grateful at this moment in my life, and I truly believe that Christ has been with me and continues to walk with me through all of these experiences. For that, I am truly blessed, and I cannot help but want to continue pouring my heart and soul into this life I lead.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Gratitude for the Women at Dolores Mission

(Pictures are from a leadership meeting from today)

Every Tuesday, I have the opportunity to attend CEB meetings. These meetings are like CLC meetings--they come together once a week to pray, to reflect on the upcoming Gospel reading for Sunday, and simply to spend time with one another and to enjoy each other's company. Here at Dolores Mission, these CEB groups are almost entirely composed of women--women who play a very active role in the life of the Church. Last Tuesday, we reflected on the passage from Luke about Mary and Martha, and I used that time to acknowledge the role that the women played at Dolores Mission.

I remarked: "As I reflect on this Gospel passage, I am reminded how important women are in the life of the Church. Of course, we already know that, but I think it is important for us to acknowledge and to highlight from time to time the vital role of women in our community. During this past month or so, it has become very clear to me that this Parish would not be able to operate without women. You are the ones who come to these CEB meetings. You are the ones who come to Daily Mass. You are the ones who have important leadership roles here at Dolores Mission. You are the ones who march for peace in the community and who lobby for justice with our local government officials. Without you, this parish would truly die. I want to take this time to thank all of you for the very important work that you do. Thank you so much for your inspiration and your ability to breathe life into the different ministries of the parish."

It is no secret that the number of priests in the U.S. is diminishing. We are not getting enough vocations to replace the many priests who are approaching retirement. Parish priests will begin to feel themselves overextended and will simply not have the energy to do all of the things they are asked to do. Some parishes are already hiring "Parish Life Directors" who essentially run the parish excluding Sacramental ministry. This is a big help to priests who were never trained anyway to run the business-side of parish life. Most of these Parish Life Directors will probably be women.

In the Gospels, the women are marked by their strong faith in Christ, and I have certainly witnessed the strong faith of the women here at Dolores Mission. I am very grateful for the positive role that women have played in my life, and I know that the future of the Church will very much be shaped by their work and contribution.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Praying with a Grieving Family

I was recently asked due to some circumstances to lead the Rite of Christian Burial/Commital for baby Abraham. It was my first time ever to lead a service of this kind, and it was an especially delicate situation since these young parents who were given great joy in conceiving him were quickly moved into great pain upon his death. Most of the priests here in the house were away at this time, and so Fr. Scott asked the parents if they wouldn't mind having a Scholastic lead them in prayer. He explained that it would not be a Mass, but--if they were okay with it--I would lead them in prayer during this time and perform all the actions that a priest would do excluding the Eucharist. They agreed, and so I was given the unique opportunity at this stage of my formation to walk with these two young parents in their moment of grief.

It's been a few months since I have last worn my clerics, but this time felt very special to me. I brought with me an alb, holy water, and incense, and I have never before felt as priestly as I did today. I was given a taste of what the future holds in store for me should I hopefully make it to ordination. It felt very natural and right to me--a huge gift for me. Today truly was a special day in my journey as a Jesuit.

I had been wrestling the past few days about what I would say during my reflection. What words could I provide that would give them comfort and peace during this time? As I prayed, I began to realize that I would not be the one giving words of comfort. Ultimately, I believed that God would be the One who would carry them during this time, and I would simply be an instrument that provided them the opportunity to have faith in His work during this difficult time.

We prayed the rosary at the beginning, and during this time the casket was open. I saw this precious little child before my eyes and was moved with profound sadness. Not long ago, this child had been in his mother's womb. Now he was eternally sleeping in this little casket.

During my reflection following the reading of the Gospel, I first shared with the parents that I could only imagine what they were going through at this time. It is only natural to feel intense pain and grief at this time--a pain I do not pretend to understand. The pain and grief is very real, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that we are not hurting at this time. They loved him dearly--how could they not feel pain? I gave them permission to cry and to feel that hurt that they currently feel.

In my prayer, four images came to me that I shared with the family. The first image I offered was the image of Mary, in which it is written in Scripture that her heart would be pierced with many swords. This is a striking image of the type of pain a mother feels when losing her beloved. I shared with them that Our Mother knows as well as anyone the pain of losing a child, and I invited them to ask Mary to teach them how to carry their suffering at this time.

In the first reading taken from the prophet Isaiah, we heard how God would wipe away all of our tears. This was another image I offered to these young parents--that God will comfort them in their sorrow and will wipe away their tears of grief--both external and internal. God wants to help us carry our load if we allow Him to.

We heard from psalm 23, and I offered to them the image of Christ as our shepherd who leads us through the valley of death into the springs of new life. I invited them to have faith in Christ who would shepherd them in their difficult time if they placed their trust in Him. I also invited them to have faith that He was leading Abraham into new and resurrected life, for this is our faith, and this is very much what we believe as Catholics.

Finally, we listened to the Gospel of John, in which Christ tells his disciples not to be troubled, but to have faith in God and faith in Him. For He will prepare a place for them and will always be with them. In this final image, I again invited the parents to trust that God has prepared a place for Abraham, a place in which he has entered into new life. Again, this is our faith, and more, now than ever, I invited them to trust in the work of Christ who has prepared a place for all of us.

Throughout my Jesuit life thus far, I have always relied on pre-typed words to aide me when offering reflections during Mass. Yet, Fr. Scott said that the less I relied on typed notes, the more I would be able to relate to the family. I trusted that insight and prayed that God would speak through me--an insight strengthened by today's daily Gospel reading, where Christ shares that in our hour of need, the Spirit of God will speak through us if we open ourselves to it. Today was the first time ever that I have given a reflection without typed notes, and it was a consoling experience of allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me.

At the cemetery, I had a moving experience in which I invited whoever wished to take the holy water I had brought and to bless Abraham's grave. Some of the little children came up and blessed the ground, and I found myself immensely moved by this gesture.

By the end, I had the sense that although the family was still hurting, they were immensely grateful for this opportunity to bring their grief and sorrow before our God and to enter into greater faith.

I find myself at this moment so very grateful for this opportunity, and I very much find myself as a result strengthened in my own vocation. At this time, I pray for all families who have lost loved ones, especially those who have lost children. May God wipe away their tears, and may they have faith that God has prepared a place for their departed children at His side.