Monday 16 June 2014

Setting my Missionary Heart Before the Open Road Ahead

By Br. Daniel Leckman, S.J.

Every year, around the time of Pentecost, I’m invited to reflect upon the work of the Spirit in my own life and how I respond to that work. It’s that second part that always troubles me. I know the spirit has done wonders in my life. The problem is I don’t always see the fruits of her work in my own response. Of course, me not seeing my response to the Spirit does not mean it’s not there. It just means I’m too impatient or restless to really see it.

This year, I feel I was able not only to see the fruits of the Spirit in my life: I could even taste them. In fact, it feels like all of my senses were involved in developing a greater consciousness and appreciation of both the gifts and my response to them. Two things helped me get to that point of awareness.

Firstly, my I learned from my continuing blog on Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (EG). More specifically, my most recent entry on points 44 and 45 of EG, in which Pope Francis speaks of “the missionary heart”. He writes that a heart will be aware of its limits and make itself “weak with the weak … everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22). He invites us to cultivate a heart that is “not closed off, that never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness.”

My heart’s mind was mesmerized by this image. At the same time, I felt conflicted. Deep inside, I don’t feel like I have the call to be a missionary like some of my Jesuit brothers do. I genuinely feel that my call is quite different. While they run off to all four corners of the world to proclaim the good news about Jesus, I should be the one who stays behind to deal with the questions and concerns that people may have after having heard one of these missionaries. That ministry of presence that ensures that I am always there for those who need me the most is integral to my vocation. But the call to roam and share my love for Jesus with others is also within me. So perhaps this process of cultivating a missionary heart is much more complex than I first thought.

Secondly, I learned from an experience I had last Saturday which simplified the idea of a missionary heart a little for me. I was in Quebec city with some friends and was given a tour of the city by one of the American Jesuits learning French there. He brought us to the Cathedral to see the “Holy Doors” exhibit. He was also quite keen on having us walk through a prayer garden located behind the Cathedral before we went in. I was reluctant and lazy about this initially. All this “garden” consisted of was a bunch of plaques with prayerful word and bible verses. It wasn't too inspiring. But our guide insisted that we stop by every plaque and spend a few minutes with each. It started as a reluctant prayer but it ended with a gift: a deeper understanding of what the fruits of the spirit were in my life. The words were simple: Conversion, Justice, Goodness, Peace, Love, Wisdom and Hope. This was the order I found them in the garden.

What the Holy Spirit did with me in that moment was quiet and subtle, but powerful. As I was praying along with each word, she showed me the connections between the words. With conversion, comes a love of justice; with justice, comes a desire for goodness; with goodness, comes a sense of inner peace; with that inner peace, we are more free to love God and others more deeply; through this love, we can receive much wisdom; and thanks to that wisdom, we carry much hope in our hearts, a hope that we long to share with others. Through these steps, we try to help others discover their own personal link to the words the Spirit reveals to us daily.

These beautiful experiences put things in perspective for me. There is indeed a missionary heart within me that responds to these words and yearns to share them with others. However, God alone knows the path that this heart will take. All I can do is join David in Psalm 71 and say, “In thee O Lord, do I place my trust.”

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