Thursday, July 30, 2009

The year is ending

Yesterday was my last day of work! Today we're going off to our end of the year retreat (called Dis-Orientation). I'm in Houston until Tuesday, when I fly home. I'll be in Berkeley till Saturday the 8th, when I drive down to Aptos (near Santa Cruz) for my orientation. After that I'll be moving into my new home in Santa Clara and starting my work at Catholic Charities in San Jose.

I'm going to work on a more comprehensive end-of-the-year reflection, but in the meantime, I wrote a reflection to share at the liturgy at our retreat. One person from each community is supposed to share a brief reflection in the spirit of a homily (sermon) based on one of the daily readings. This is what I wrote:

A reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
Brothers and sisters: I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Paul calls us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, to be transformed so that we reject a lifestyle of deceitful desires and turn toward God's righteousness and truth – God's justice. JVC calls us to be "ruined for life" along similar lines. We leave behind the futile way of thinking of ignorance and blindness with an amazing chance this year to learn Christ in a new way.

Spending 40-plus hours a week working with or for the poor is very different than the occasional service days many of us did before this year. This type of work opens your eyes in a way that you can never fully close them again. We've learned too much to turn our backs on injustice now.

We have learned Christ this year by seeing Christ in front of us every day, not on a crucifix on the wall, but in the eyes of friends and strangers. My community saw Christ in death row inmates, gay men dying of AIDS, Rwandan refugees, Salvadoran survivors of human trafficking, low-wage workers crying because of the bad treatment they have suffered, Mexican immigrants waiting for 10 or more years for a family member to be able to come to this country, and children and parents with HIV and AIDS.

Our ears were opened listening to people's stories and struggles. Abstract concepts of poverty, illness, war, and violence became realities, and we began to see the "other" as "us" instead of "them."

One thing I enjoyed a lot this year was the opportunity to go to rallies and protests as part of my job. On May 1st, my organization helped put on a vigil and rally for immigration reform. We were a mixed group of immigrants with and without papers and non-immigrant allies, standing together calling for justice and human rights. At the end, we gathered around in a circle and sang We Shall Overcome, first in Spanish, then in English. As we sang this beautiful song of hope from the civil rights movement, I felt a profound sense of solidarity with the people around me and privilege that I could be with these immigrants in their struggle. It is small moments of grace like this that teach us truth in Jesus – that we are one human family.

We've been called to conversion by God, by JVC, and most importantly, by every person we have served and accompanied this year. We've been called to an alternative way of living that recognizes Christ in the poor, even when that means we need to forego the cushy lifestyle that many of us grew up with and deal with relatives and friends who don't understand why you won't just get a real job and start earning money.

We were all given a beautiful gift this year. We were given an opportunity to fulfill God's call to all of us to love and to serve one another. Let us go on from this year with our eyes and ears opened by what we have learned of Christ. As Paul says a little after the reading we just heard, "Therefore, be beloved children of God and live in love as Christ loved us."