This week my thoughts and prayers have once again returned to a small Indian village over 9000 miles away. Today in Mamallapuram, India, a new friend (Tim) has joined some old friends of mine (the Cooks) and their mission, Hands on Houses. Hands on Houses is devoted to building sustainable housing for impoverished widows. Experts say 69% of the Indian people live on less than 2 dollars a day. The widows of India are especially vulnerable, suffering both financially and emotionally. Please pray for India. Please pray for the Cooks. Please pray for Tim.
They may not know it, but the Cooks have a lot to teach us about where the Holy Spirit is leading the Catholic Church in 2014. In his already historical exhortation, Evangilii Gaudium Pope Francis laid out a vision for a radical transformation in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis challenged us to transform into a missionary Church.
He assigned every individual Catholic the vocation of becoming a “missionary disciple.” Missionary disciples are driven by the joy of the gospel. Missionary disciples are sent by God outside of their comfort zones to the periphery of society. Missionary disciples embrace life at the periphery. Missionary disciples embrace the suffering at the periphery. Missionary disciples feel the bruises of the periphery. Missionary disciples are transformed by the periphery.
Pope Francis says the church won’t be fully transformed until Catholics everywhere start to smell like the periphery. Pope Francis has challenged Catholics the world over to shout, “Hold on a minute. Can someone direct me to the periphery?”
Jesus gave this simple commandment to all missionary disciples. Jesus said, “go.” So where are we going? My friend Tim took a 20- hour flight from Austin to the Cooks’ house in Mamallapurum, India.
The Cooks are truly driven by the joy of the gospel. Donald Cook wakes up every morning smiling and proclaiming “another day in paradise.” The Cooks embrace the life and dignity of every person in Mamallapurum. When I traveled with the Cooks, everywhere they went they were greeted with trust, and they had formed lasting relationships there. The Cooks have embraced the great suffering in India. Together they build homes for the widows and the handicapped in one of the poorest places on the planet. They pray with them. They comfort them. They suffer with them.
Living in a country that is not their own can make scrapes and bruises a dangerous thing. A simple cut in India could lead to a serious infection. Indeed, the Cooks have been marked by their work. Working in India has transformed the Cooks, and I am sure the experience is transforming Tim. This is where missionary disciples go.
That was the path God called the Cooks to go on, and so they went. But I am sure most of my readers are reading this and shaking their heads. No, that isn’t my path; that is not where God is sending me. Well, you can do your part, in part, by supporting the efforts of Hands on Houses financially. But Jesus still says “go.” If you can’t go to India, go to…
40 Days For Life: 8401 North I-35, Austin TX
One of the greatest injustices in our society today is abortion. For too long we have pushed the families who suffer to the periphery of our concern. That is why every year during the 40 Days for Life campaign Catholics go to the clinic sidewalks. For 40 days we hold a peaceful vigil on the sidewalk. Most will simply pray. Others will be trained to become sidewalk counselors. Sidewalk counselors discuss life affirming alternatives to frightened families.
Although few may call it a joyful experience, sidewalk counselors and prayer champions are driven by the truth of the gospel. If you choose to join the campaign by remaining peacefully and playfully present for the unborn, you will be embracing the sanctity of every human life. If you open your heart to desperate and lonely families, you will embrace their fears and their suffering. When you stand at the location of one of our society’s greatest injustices, you will be cursed, you will be threatened, you will be mentally and spiritually bruised. If you open your eyes to the true face of a holocaust, you will be transformed. This is where the missionary disciples go.
Micha 6: 2203 San Antonio Street, Austin TX
Today advocates estimate that nearly 1/3 of families in Central Texas struggle financially to buy food. If that statistic surprises you, this is because we have pushed these families to the periphery of our vision. But every Thursday evening and Saturday morning the Micha 6 Food Pantry distributes greatly needed groceries to these hungry families. On a given Saturday, Micha 6 may provide over 150 individuals with the nutrition they need.
Currently Micha 6 is projecting that it will have a significant shortfall in its annual food budget. For this reason pantry workers are asking churches to organize food drives, and they are asking the community to please support the CROP walk on March 23. Of course, they will always accept more volunteers at the pantry.
The gospel claims whoever provides food for those at the periphery will encounter Christ. Let this joyful teaching bring you to Micha 6. If you volunteer at Micha 6, you will literally hold the bread of life in your hands. When you volunteer at Micha 6, your spirit will share in the woundedness and brokenness of those who hunger in Central Texas. When you stand with them, you will embrace their suffering. When you encounter the Christ inside them, you will be transformed. This is where the missionary disciples go.
Catholic Build: 6106 Sandshof, Austin TX
ECHO has counted 1987 homelessness individuals in Austin and Travis counties. We pass these individuals on our way to work everyday, but far too often we turn away to keep them at the periphery. But this March for the 17th year in a row, the Diocese of Austin is partnering with Austin Habitat for Humanity to build new homes for the homeless of Central Texas. Its the Diocese of Austin Catholic Build.
Habitat volunteers are driven by the joy of good news (gospel) for the poor. If you volunteer with Habitat, your labor will be side- by- side with those whom you are serving. Together you will embrace the life of a new home in a new community. You will take part in the suffering that comes from being without these things. It will be real work in the hot sun; you may very well receive some scrapes and bruises along the way. But as the house takes form on the outside, inside you will also be transformed. This is where the missionary disciples go.
…also if you’re single and wouldn’t mind meeting some friends while you’re doing it…Mardi Gras Bonus.
Mary House: 711B King Edward Pl, Austin, TX
Without a home and a community, it is easy to be forgotten. Sometimes the homeless get sick. Far too often people in Austin get sick and slowly die unnamed in the periphery. But others find the Mary House. The Mary House is a Catholic worker house dedicated to providing free medically supportive housing to homeless adults with critical or terminal illnesses. The house is always happy to have new volunteers.
The Mary House is driven by the joy that every stranger welcomed is Christ in disguise. At the Mary House you firmly take hold of the life we are given. If you serve at the Mary House, you rejoice for the extension of life, but you must also embrace the suffering when it must come to an end. When you break bread with these men, you will be transformed. This is where the missionary disciples go.
Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to make a total transformation. Thank God for our new pope’s leadership. But the Church can only be transformed if Catholics themselves will be transformed. Pope Francis is challenging you to become a missionary disciple. My challenge to you in this post is to find your path and go.