On Thursday evening, I arrived home safely from our 10-day mission to Guatemala. Thank you for your prayers!
It was an eventful trip, filled with many blessings that I’m sure will “spill over” into my life in yet-unknown ways. At some point, Jesus may ask me to make a sacrifice of some sort, but this trip definitely wasn’t it. This was pure gift.
I departed wondering what – if anything – could be achieved in 10 days that would constitute a successful mission, which must have been a sentiment shared by others in my group, because Fr. A shared a message with us, “I want to remind you that you don’t know the full reason why God brought you to Guatemala at this time. Permit the suffering and tension you experience within you and around you to draw you deeper into what God is seeking to share with you. You are one of his children and he has brought you here with a specific group of people in order to introduce you to a new encounter with His love. Remain open to listen for the specific word he is sharing with you at this time.”
It was certain that apart from pouring a concrete slab for part of a construction project, or getting to help build part of one stove for one family, or sorting a few pounds of green coffee beans, our group was not going to change the circumstances of life for the people we visited. Our “work” would have next to no impact.
There is a great contrast of circumstances between the First and Third World, and these circumstances do matter, but we can’t pretend that circumstances set forth a type of merit. God gives us everything we have, He places us in our particular circumstances for a particular purpose, but He does not identify value in our circumstances.
Rather, we do that. We conclude that since we have more stuff and live more comfortably, that our ways are somehow better than those of our brothers and sisters. We grow complacent, associating material wealth with spiritual well-being.
We expect that others would prefer to live the way we do, and we scratch our heads if someone rejects what we have in favor of their “poverty”.
At Sunday Mass with the Hermanas Missionarias de la Eucharistica, we heard Jesus say in the Gospel reading: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” (Matt. 11:25-30).
With this clear teaching in mind, what can possibly be inherently valuable about being “wise and learned” if it does not gain the kingdom for ourselves? Why do we pretend?
There is a quote attributed to Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta that is perfectly true whether she said it or not: essentially, some people are so poor that all they have is…. money.
That’s us! We are the ones who are truly poor! We are the dragon who builds a nest upon a pile of treasure, jealously guarding it, devoting life and limb to it. We assume that without this “treasure” we will be just as miserable and desperate as the multitude. “If only they could have what we have (and it didn’t cost us anything to give it to them),” we say.
This misplaced focus is no benefit, but rather a heavy burden that bores out the soul and leaves emptiness in its place. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Id.). In seeking after the wrong things, we never receive the rest and comfort that Jesus offers.
The thing is, the people of Guatemala are not poor and they are not miserable and they are not desperate. The people of Guatemala are richer than we are, because they have Jesus. They cling to Him and each other. They see His gifts and it brings them great JOY.
Because of circumstances, I went on a mission. But the purpose of the mission was so that my heart could be changed. The true missionaries were the people there, who ministered to me. They sent me home aware of their joy, which was a holy and life-giving example of discipleship. They possessed what I desired for myself.
In this mission, I helped give a family a stove and some kids a better education and some medicine, but they gave me Jesus Christ, the one who saves, sanctifies and loves. And when I return, it will be with that clear purpose in mind: to encounter Him again, to meet Christ in them, and to be nourished by their faithful example.