The Word was made flesh…
Our little apartment in Edmonton faces North and is very close to the North Saskatchewan River Valley which is home to many of our homeless sisters and brothers. We are surrounded by apartments and behind each apartment there is a commercial garbage bin. These bins have become for me an important symbol of what it means to engage in a “Culture of Vocation”. When this insight first came to me I was startled by it. My immediate response was, “This makes no sense”. However, as each day unfolds and Sr. Catherine and I see more and more women and men coming to the bins, I’m gradually discovering what a powerful image the bins provide. Let me explain. Every person who comes is searching and is full of hope that some treasures will be discovered in these bins. Some of these “seekers” readily engage in conversation; others are more reticent. As a relationship is built one discovers the hidden richness of the person and how his/her journey has brought them to this particular moment in life. Some are trusting enough to share a story of a very difficult family life; how abuse or alcohol and drug addictions have brought them to this moment in their lives. Frequently one hears of struggles with mental health.
This is certainly not the situation of everyone. There are others who have come from strong family backgrounds, who have been blessed with a good education, families of their own, a healthy pay cheque but who, for a variety of reasons, including the economic downturn, have fallen on hard times. As I listen I often discover individuals whose faith roots are very deep and who, in spite of many obstacles, continue to believe in God’s infinite love for them. There is a readiness to “put flesh on that love” in their relationships with those they encounter on the streets.
So, how do these experiences relate to fostering a “Culture of Vocation”? I began this reflection by referring to the spirit of hope that prompts our homeless sisters and brothers to come each day to the bins as they search for pop cans, bottles and other “treasures” that they can sell or which they can use to adorn their humble abode in the river valley. Even though it would appear that theirs is solely a physical hunger, one discovers that many of them have a profound hunger for our Creator God, a deep yearning to be in relationship with God, others, themselves and all of creation. Our young adults are seekers who, often without being able to identify it, have a profound hunger for God. They search for hope and meaning, a sense of purpose. Often they don’t understand that the “longing in their hearts…..O God”. In accompanying young adults one discovers that many of our youth today come from families that have not provided the love, the nurturing, the sense of belonging for which we all thirst. There is a hunger for relationships that endure, that help them discover their worth and dignity as human beings, and that nurture them in their efforts to contribute to society in a meaningful and positive manner.
The 2002 Montreal Congress presented a simple but challenging message to consecrated women and men. We were invited to risk journeying with our young adults, to build relationships of trust, to listen to their stories, to encourage them to hope for a better future, to find meaning in the midst of a world that feels, at times, like a garbage dump. Each one carries within him/herself hidden treasures but these treasures are often obscured by so much suffering. The Congress called us to be human, to open our hearts and our doors so our young adults can come to know us and to discover that we are people who are in love with God. Pope Francis, in his letter, “The Joy of the Gospel”, published thirteen years after the Congress, reiterates this same message: The Congress made it abundantly clear that we need to step out in faith and take the risk to be present to families as they try to live their vocation in the midst of the many challenges of our world today; to be willing to journey with, and to support those called to the single life, and to be a discerning presence with men and women who are trying to determine whether or not their desire to to spend their lives as disciples of Jesus, announcing The Joy of the Gospel, is genuine.
Too often, I believe, we get caught trapped by the reality of diminishing and aging membership, failing to let the Holy Spirit “fan into flame” the fire of love that inspired our founders and foundresses. Did they have great numbers? No! Was it clear to them what God was asking? Probably not. Yet, God worked wonders in and through them, and will do the same today if we are willing to learn from our sisters and brothers who, filled with hope, come daily to the garbage bins, searching to find the treasures that lie deep within.
Jesus did not “pitch His tent” among a perfect people. He chose to dwell among us in brokenness, vulnerability and fragility, frequently revealing Himself in the most unexpected people and places, even commercial garbage bins!
And Pitched His tent among us