Being with the people – experience or experiment?

Here then are a few points I have written down to provide you with a standard of conduct to live up to; but our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do. See that the bounds of common sense are not exceeded, however, for common sense is the guide of the virtues.

Rule of St. Albert, No 24

Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM., secretary for the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, told a group of young religious from different congregations in the Philippines that he does not believe in month-long immersions to different marginalized sectors because most of these immersions would actually end up experiments.

What he wants is for the religious to actually experience the life of the marginalized and that means being one with them for the rest of one’s religious life – in their pain, in their hopes, in the challenges that they face.

It is no wonder that for many, immersions to marginalized communities is a grand vacation, a time when a simple professed religious, or seminarians in general, is away from the scrutinizing eyes of the formators.

A friend confided to me once that he was disturbed when an old lady elder of a tribe where they had their immersion came to him crying, “Brother, your companion said that listening to our stories is not part of your being here. He said you are simply here to just live with us.”

Every opportunity we get to be with the people is an opportunity not just to understand them or their situation but also to show them that we are one with them in their most difficult time.

Listening to their stories, no matter how “uninteresting” they may be or “un-educated” or “contra-intellectual” they may be is part of our being one with them.

It is simply recognition of the trust and confidence that they have gifted us with. A gift that is very precious and rare, for they only share their story to those whom they consider to be part of their family, their tribe, their community, with someone who they consider to be special.

Besides, for a religious, vowed to follow the footsteps of the man from Nazareth, no story will ever be uninteresting, for every story, every encounter is an encounter with the Divine.

As children of God, how willing are we to go beyond our comfort zones and give more than what we can give to the people who needs us the most?

Matthew 14:13-16
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

Lord, grant me a compassionate heart that’s willing to give more than what I can offer, knowing that all that I have, all that I am is yours. Amen.