My conversion to Catholicism occurred about eight years after the events I described in Grace Made Man. Only 3 short months after I was confirmed, God’s providence allowed me to serve with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Missionaries de Christe in Honduras. This would become my greatest lesson in community to date.
I arrived in Honduras alone. I had only spoken to three other people on the trip, and it was only over the telephone. I had only been a Catholic for three months, I knew little Spanish and still had quite a bit anxiety meeting new people.
My first impression of Honduras was overwhelming.
I was overwhelmed by the love of the Honduran people. I was overwhelmed by the embrace of their children. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome from all my fellow missionaries. I was overwhelmed by how easy it was to open up, connect and yes, evangelize. And I was overwhelmed by the deep faith, spirituality and wisdom of everyone who served in Honduras. One day I was lucky enough to talk to some of the young Franciscan brothers in private, and I asked them what their lives were like as Franciscans.
The answer I will never forget. Living in a missionary community was like “…Living in the acts of the Apostles.”
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, …
Isn’t that the grace and community we are all hungry for? You can find that abundant grace today but, in addition to what I described in The House That Grace Builds and Prescription Strength Grace you must seek out service and sacrifice. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who serve.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
Iif you started reading my blog posts a while ago, you shouldn’t be surprised that I have transitioned from my topic for the last 3 posts (community) to my favorite topic (service). But I haven’t made a transition at all. Community and service are two inseparable pieces of the Christian journey.
You can not have any effective apostolic ministry without community. When I work out, my trainer likes to talk about large muscle groups and small muscle groups. If you are going to lift a large weight you have to combine forces from a large group of muscles. When you tire a large muscle group, you can feel other muscles kicking in to compensate, and so it is with the Body of Christ.
To lift the world out of sin, we need the combined graces of a large group of members.
The community in Honduras had come from many different places with many different stories. The Honduran Youth, the Missionaries de Christe, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Sisters of Charity, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, the Catholic Fellowship at LSU, and the rest of the Honduran people all came together under the diocese of Comayagua to bring the spirit of Christ to the second poorest country in North America.
Each brought their own talents, their own spirituality, and their own unique grace to help the Honduran people. We were blessed in abundance and we needed every drop. It wasn’t long before each of us were getting tired. The mission was tiring both physically (long walks in the hot sun with little rest) and spiritually (pointing to the divine among nearly inhuman circumstances).
It was the love and encouragement of everyone working around me that would renew my strength. My day to day energy came in remembering that I did not have to do it all. God was working through me to make one drop of water. God would fill the bucket with 1,000 drops coming from all around. Even though we could not fully envision the whole picture, we could trust God’s plan would be fulfilled.
In any apostolic mission, you must form communion with those whom you serve. If you try to work for them or over them you will simply be an intrusive presence who will not meet their needs. Successful outreach is accomplished only when you work with your brothers and sisters. In Honduras, we served in obedience to the Diocese of Comayagua – the living church rooted in and living with the people of Comayagua. It was their mission not ours.
You can not have community without apostolic ministry. The renowned Franciscan priest and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr was once asked what was the force that allowed some spiritual communities to thrive where so many fail. Rohrs answer was direct – community must be focused outward. According to Rohr when a community focuses its spiritual energy inward the members begin to criticize and tear each other down. This will simply self-destruct.
Sadly, I had a taste of this first hand before I came to Honduras. Here at home in Austin, I am very involved in the Catholic young adult community. I will do my best to be charitable in this wide format, but it is fair to say young adults have a tendency towards being shallow and selfish. I am no better. In my weaker moments I am short-tempered, shallow and petty. At the time before I left to Honduras, I was at the center of far too much inward-focused, bitter, self-destructive energy. If I had not left that energy at that time in my life, I certainly would have become a casualty of it.
Authentic Christian community doesn’t point its energy inward. It points its energy towards Christ, and Christ’s heart is the heart of a servant. Christ was a God whom descended from power to bring love and compassion for the vulnerable. That is why in any authentic Christian community, you will find people going outward to bring love and compassion to the vulnerable.
In a lot of ways my conversion was inspired by a wise young women named Christine. In those days Christine would travel to Honduras as a medical missionary the week after Easter every year. The May before I converted, I cornered Christine and made her describe the trip to me. Through a cracking voice and watering eyes, Christine told me the trip was “heartbreaking.” Something in my spirit had to know what could give Christine the strength to intentionally break her own heart year after year.
It was my community in Austin pointed my spirit to Honduras. It soon became obvious to me what brought Christine back year after year. Honduras was heartbreaking, but the love of the Honduran people and the deep faith of everyone at the mission filled all the cracks with something better – the Heart of Christ. Mission work will break your heart and then pour Christ’s heart in.
There is no mission without community, and there is no Catholic community without mission. We join the body of Christ to serve whenever we serve. Wherever you serve, you don’t have to leave the country, but if you want to be part of a authentic grace-filled community you must find a way to serve. Take some time to pray about how God may be calling you to serve, there you will find your community.
Advent is the season of Decision, Anticipation and Preparation. Mary said yes to God, and for nine months she anticipated and stayed prepared for the coming of Jesus. The handmaids said yes to the bridegroom. For many hours they waited in anticipation and kept prepared for the bridegroom’s return. We are anticipating the coming of the Kingdom in all its glory. So we must choose to be prepared for its arrival.
My First Advent challenge to you is to set aside some time to serve the least of these, and bring a friend to share the joy. If you need them here are a few places to start-