Fr. Aidan Rooney, CM
There’s a great happiness to be found serving God’s poor. Part of that happiness is the closeness you can achieve, especially with children, in a very short time. Being with the little ones in our day care in Mocomoco always puts a smile on my face.
Those of you who are connected with me on Facebook know that May 7th didn’t start out as a great day. For a missionary in rural Bolivia, the last thing I want to encounter when visiting the city (El Alto / La Paz) to do necessary things is a transportation stoppage. What usually takes one hour now takes four. Three of these hours will be spent walking in the hot sun amidst ones equally-put-out brothers and sisters. I think this may be the first CFJ blog post that starts out with a 55 year-old whining like a baby….
Well, anyway, when I have time to read, I read in chunks. What usually happens is I get interested (or re-interested) in a particular author and now, with the assistance of Kindle, read to my hearts content. Lately, it has been re-reading works by Frederick Beuchner, Presbyterian theologian whose work extends from the mid-twentieth century into our own. Those of you who might not know him have probably heard an often quoted “proverb” on vocation: “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. HarperOne; Rev Exp edition 1993.) I’ll come back to this.
I left the house on the morning of May 7th grumpy. With my empty backpack ready for my purchases, I set off on the one an one half hour walk to the “Ceja” of El Alto, looking to pick up some necessary hardware and tools for repairs to our house in Mocomoco (some five hours north of La Paz). As I walked, I began to notice that I was cheering up, probably smiling (since I received some smiles and odd looks from others – which may only have been looks of curiosity at the tall, rangy gringo who was walking at a pretty fast clip), and even whistling. Probably the exercise was lifting my spirit, but also I was keenly aware that I was in “my place,” “at home.” In doing the day-to-day stuff that I have to do as a missionary I realize that after almost three years here, I live here and I like it here. Even the ordinary stuff is the stuff of revelation. I recall Beuchner once again,
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
(Now and Then. Harper San Francisco, 1991)
You can’t do that if you’re not “at home,” wherever that may be at any given moment. If you lose that feeling after a reasonable amount of time (and, no, I don’t know how much time that is), God probably wants you elsewhere. If the ordinary day-to-day stuff is not opening up to something else, maybe it’s time to move on. One of our missionaries who was with us this last year just discovered that and had the good sense to return to his home country. That’s not to say he didn’t serve well while here. To the contrary, his gift will remain and be built upon. Beuchner again:
“The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
(The Hungering Dark. HarperOne, 1985.)
Everything we do advances (or thwarts) the great scheme of “God’s will” to some degree. So don’t sweat it if it’s time to move on. Your life will have done some good. The world has hungers that you can fill, whether you’re happy or not. But, you should be happy.
And now I can come back to the first Beuchner citation. To be a missionary means to be at the service of the reign of God – and that service includes ones own salvation as well. St. Vincent de Paul in his rule for missionaries instructed us to seek that holiness that would have us become more and more like Christ. He said that the first purpose of our Congregation is to “to have a genuine commitment to grow in holiness, patterning ourselves, as far as possible, on the virtues which the great Master himself graciously taught us in what he said and did;” (if you want to read the whole thing its downloadable here.) Christ, for Vincent, is the missionary, serving the will of the Father while becoming/revealing ones true self. To be happy – to experience Beuchner’s “deep gladness” – is equally part of being a missionary as is the service we offer when we encounter the “world’s deep hunger.”
So, on May 7th, after many days of joy-filled service on the Altiplano, I encountered a deep gladness walking amidst the folks of El Alto. I think God wants me here. I wrote this as an invitation to anyone who is giving part or all of their life to the service among God’s poor. Have you found that deep gladness yet amidst the hungers that you’ve encountered? Do you feel “at home” where you are?
If you haven’t read any of Beuchner’s work, I very much recommend it. And by the way, I found all the things I was looking for in the “Ceja.” I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to fine a good, used Stanley Stillson wrench!