In speaking to a group of undergrads at a Catholic university recently about mission and Maryknoll, I mentioned my background teaching in low-income areas of the US, and then working at a non-profit serving families in the Seattle area. I noted that it was a transition for me to begin working for Maryknoll, which works to promote the love, peace, and justice of God beyond our borders in some of the poorest nations in the world. Having seen so much struggle within our national borders, I at first wondered what had called me to this new ministry.
|Students I taught in Birmingham, AL (2006)|
I mentioned this only briefly, going on to explain how my faith has been enlivened by a sense of global awareness and by visiting with people in places like Guatemala and Haiti, as well as learning of the ways that Maryknollers and others live the Gospel throughout the world. Later, though, one of the students asked me to talk more about the tension between addressing the needs of those in our own communities, regions, countries, etc., and addressing the needs of people around the world. (And this is most definitely a tension: I have encountered countless stories of parishes wanting to enter into a global ministry, only to meet resistance from some parishioners that see as more important the needs of the poor in their own backyards. In the case of this student, she was considering her next steps after graduating, specifically whether and how to volunteer or serve.)
The answer that came to me was simple, but not easy (and I said as much!). I said that we all need to ask ourselves where God is calling us to serve. In Catholic circles, especially lay circles, we often do not discuss service through the lens of prayer. We think about what we are good at, what our values are, and what we would like to do. All of these ought to be considered in discernment, but we also often close ourselves to discerning God's path for us, and limit the scope of what we think is possible or necessary.
|Children I met in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (2012)|
In the case of the question raised by this student, the Scripture model is one of breaking down borders. The disciples often have clear ideas about where they ought to spend their time and who with - who they should eat with, should heal, can learn from - and God consistently challenges those notions. Jesus brings them into Samaria. Jesus challenges them to not only greet their "brothers" and those that love them. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit directs the faithful to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.
When pray for the guidance to break down those borders, we can let God direct us without placing preconceived limitations. I told the student that the needs of the poor and vulnerable, no matter where they live, are great. Our challenge is to enter into relationship with them and, through dialogue and prayer, discern how we are called to help. We may be called to the mountains of Bolivia, the rice fields of Cambodia, the inner-cities of the United States, or the hard-to-define boundaries of the Texas-Mexico border. In any case, we need to discern our mission call. And no matter where we are called, we are called to love all people near and far, especially those most in need.