Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
02.28.16 – Likasi Before leaving Africa I want to share some recurring thoughts. As I start this letter, John, Crispin and I just celebrated the third Sunday of Lent at Saint Thérèse Church around the corner from the Brothers’ house. Mass was celebrated in Swahili. One does not have to understand Swahili to be touched by the soulful rhythm of the singing. This visit to Kenya and Congo has truly been spiritual and fraternal, yet very demanding physically. I read a passage in the opening week of Lent that kept recurring to me while in Africa. It remains with me still:
I have set before you life and death,
The blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then.
Daily our senses are bombarded with images of people choosing life or opting for death. We witness blessings as well as curses. Fortunately, one major blessing is Pope Francis whose very words and actions encourage us to embrace life. By his example Francis reminds us of Jesus’ words, “I come that they may have life and have life abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10) This Jubilee Year is about choosing God’s mercy—abundant life. Francis’ thinking about mercy is clear.
Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life… The Church’s very credibility is seen in how She shows mercy and compassionate love.
Misericordiae Vultus, 10
Jesus’ mission, then, was to bring life in its fullness by revealing the Father’s mercy in all the relationships He formed with people who approached him; especially sinners, the poor, the outcasts and marginalized, the sick and the suffering. Jesus’ relationships teach us how to be merciful. (MV, 8) As members of the Xaverian family we are also called to make Jesus’ mission of mercy visible, active and accessible to all persons.
As a disciple of Jesus you are called to follow in His footsteps and to minister God’s healing touch of love, through word and deed, to all whom you meet in your journey of life.
How do I respond to those who approach me? With openness? With fear? With heartfelt mercy? With indifference? Or do I hide behind rigid rules in order to avoid the messiness of mercy? Do I experience the joy of vocation? Or do I find myself counting the personal cost?
Choose life keeps echoing in my mind. I witnessed our Brothers choosing life. Let me share a couple of examples.
Raphael and students from Tangaza College with the support of alumni from Saint Xavier in Louisville have been engaged with a water project for the poor people in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Ignored by the government, there is no sewer system, no water, no school systems, and no hospitals. This water project is showing God’s mercy by providing the people with clean drinking water. Some of our young Brothers do their apostolate in Kibera. In this desperate place our Brothers reveal God’s attention and mercy during the weekly youth ministry visits to children who are completely disadvantaged.
Our Brothers in Bungoma are also choosing life by ministering God’s mercy to those poor and marginalized who live in the shadow of our center. Brother Dominque makes pastoral visits to the families to see if everything is okay. Brother Vincent is providing produce from our farm at a reduced cost to families. Brothers Daniel Ongeso and John Mary are supporting the young people who are recipients of educational funds from the Olsen Foundation.
Our postulants work directly with the street kids at the Rescue Center. The postulants are learning that working with the marginalized is not always easy; there is a cost. In conversation, the postulants readily acknowledge how very important the ministry is, yet at times they feel at a loss as to how to help the street kids. Mr. Francis Sifuna Masichga, a colleague of the Brothers, has both the training and experience with street kids and is a wonderful mentor to our postulants.
The same scenario is taking place in Congo at our Novitiate in Kipushi and at two Centers for Abandoned Children. Brother René ministers at la Maison Ryken and Brother François ministers at le Centre Bon Berger (the Good Shepherd.) What I found so very uplifting is the generous spirit, the willingness to give of self and the deep faith that the Brothers engaged in these ministries have, as well as those Brothers teaching in the schools in Likasi and Kasenga. I am reminded of the words of the Fundamental Principles that unite us as the Xaverian family:
Through your life of gospel witness lived in common with your Brothers, God desires to manifest His care and compassionate love.
03.10.16 – Baltimore Since my return, these images of our Brothers in Kenya and Congo keep coming to me in my prayer. Choose life. On Saturday, March 5th along with Xaverian Associates and Brothers in the Maryland Region, I attended the 24 Hours for the Lord as part of the Jubilee at Saint Anthony’s Shrine. Associates Kevin Shearer and Chuck Belzner organized the day for us. It was very meaningful for me to have quiet time to reflect on the past few weeks. What we shared on the topic of God’s mercy made me acutely aware of how our Brothers and Associates, like our Brothers in Africa, are manifesting God’s mercy. It was really moving for me to listen to how these women and men are generously expressing God’s mercy–teaching prisoners who never had the advantage of an education, teaching ESL to immigrants, serving lunch at My Brother’s Keeper Soup Kitchen, involvement with Bearing Witness which is a program that teaches about the Holocaust.
Be merciful as the Father is merciful.
In Misericordia Vultus Pope Francis invites us to experience more intimately the mercy of the Father through moments of solitude and contemplation. I simply offer to you what Francis invites us to do as we prepare for Holy Week.
On Holy Thursday we recall Jesus’ Last Supper, the context of which is the story of God’s merciful deliverance of the Jewish people. At the Last Supper Jesus made the Father’s mercy very real when He gave us the gift of His Body and Blood. God’s mercy, tenderness, forgiveness, compassion, nourishment and faith are at the heart of the Eucharist. The Eucharist then becomes both a source of strength and a source of joy as we try in our lives as disciples of Jesus to be merciful as the Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). Francis exhorts us to let our hearts behold and penetrate the meaning of the Last Supper.
Francis also invites us to read prayerfully Psalm 136 (the Great Hallel). It was the psalm that Jesus and the disciples sang once the supper was over before heading to the Garden of Olives (Mt 26:30). The refrain, For His mercy endures forever, repeats itself over and over. Francis believes the repetition breaks through space and time and allows us to be touched by the eternal mystery of the Father’s mercy.
My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me. Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have.
Matthew 26: 28-29
Francis also invites us to be with Jesus as He prays to the Father and undergoes his agony. Francis asks, “Who are we before Jesus’ pending suffering?” Are we able to stay with Jesus as He prays? Are we filled with fear unable to stand by him? Are we filled with doubt and ready to flee? Do we keep watch with our friend or do we fall asleep refusing to face reality? Jesus showed mercy to all who were with him in the Garden. How does Jesus show me mercy each day?
Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
Lastly, Francis talks of Mary, the Mother of Mercy who participated intimately in Jesus’ incarnation of divine mercy. Francis invites us to spend time with Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross and to witness Jesus’ ultimate choice of life in his embracing the will of the Father and his powerful expression of forgiveness toward those who crucified him. God’s mercy is without limits.
As we begin Holy Week, I pray that as individuals, families and communities we allow the Spirit to lead us, and in doing so that we be merciful as the Father is merciful. Have a holy Triduum and a Joyful Easter.