As I write you we are in the throws of the Advent season, during that octave of intense preparation for the coming of our Lord on Christmas day. Advent has always been a favourite season of mine, especially with the hymns associated with it. Though I have been giving the sisters a hard time as I tell them we should be singing more Advent hymns at Mass! I try to make up for it by singing them at adoration with the people we serve on Fridays and Sundays :).
In many ways things haven’t changed except that life has been a lot busier. One sister went home to Edmonton for her once-every-decade home visit and will be returning on January 3rd. She is the driver for the sisters and so now I have become the driver for them. Another sister has been moved to Tijuana. One more has been made a superior of the other house here near Gallup (that house focuses exclusively on work on the reservations). She, however, doesn’t move until after Christmas. So we are down from 6 to 4 sisters. Plus we had snow twice this week, which means both the soup kitchen and shelter get extra busy! On top of that, the sisters had me refinish the wood floor in their refectory, refinish a book shelf and two tables. I’m becoming a regular jack of all trades ;). I forgot how much I enjoy that type of physical labour (after my first year of seminary I did painting with Fr. Dean’s son Neil). There is a great peace about it all, and at the end of the day you really feel that sense that you have accomplished something. Oh yes, and our dryer broke down! The sisters wash all the clothes, towels, and sheets by hand (the latter they only do once a week though). We usually hang dry them all but when it is very cold we will use the dryer. So I had to bring all these clothes to the laundromat twice this week to get them dry so that the men who would stay at the shelter would have dry PJs and towels! Needless to say, it’s been busy! Most days the past 2 weeks have been nearing 12 hour days. I am glad that today is our day off and I can relax, clean, pray, and read.
It is hard to believe that the first portion of my mission year is nearing it’s end. I am done in less than 2 months! Time sure flies by! I have very much been enjoying myself here but, at the same time, am also looking forward to being back home for a short while to be with family, friends, and my Diocese :).
I have also begun some programs here. I am doing catechism for two of our men who wish to be baptized. Also, on Fridays, I am doing a Bible Study with whoever wishes to come. Last week we had 20 guys come. I keep it short and ask lots of questions and do some explanations as well with the hopes that the scriptures come alive for the men. So I have plenty here to keep me busy.
I found it interesting when Sr. Marion got the call about her move. She literally had one week to get ready. Granted, the MCs don’t have much to bring with them to their new houses, but it is interesting how obedience works and really, how detached one must be to act so quickly on such an obediential call! Diocesan priests get a bit more warning than that and there is a sense that they must attach themselves to their parish for their parish is a representative of their spouse the Church. For religious sisters, their spouse is Jesus, and I wonder if that perhaps makes it an easier detachment when such a call happens. I was sad to see Sr. Marion leave as I found her to be a joyful and saintly woman. We will be receiving two new sisters after Christmas, though when exactly that will happen we are not sure, nor are we sure as to where they will come from.
I think it will be interesting celebrate Christmas here and am looking forward to it. It will be different because I am not even attached to a parish, so this will be a unique Christmas for me, since I had a “parish family” when on internship in Courtenay. By different, though, I don’t mean lonely (interestingly, I haven’t found loneliness to be a problem while being here) but rather simply a new and unique experience that I probably will never have again in life. So I must embrace it.
Otherwise things are more or less the same. We have two seminarians coming in January for a month so I will have a community in the house for a month. We have been hearing good stories from guys. For example, one guy came to me yesterday to tell me that he is going into rehab on the 31st of December AND going home for Christmas (a month ago he was dead set against going home for Christmas). It is always a joy to hear this great news. I have come to really love the guys we serve and have got to know most of the names of the men we serve. It is powerful how much of a difference knowing their name makes. I think it imparts on them a sense of dignity because so often they are either a number or simply a nobody. We have to opportunity to show them that they have a dignity, they are loved. They also come and ask you questions a lot more if you know their name. Last night I was, in fact, bombarded with questions about the faith by guys. It was a great joy to see that their yearning hasn’t been destroyed, that it is still there. We need to work with that and build on that. When I first arrived, I was initially uneasy about the fact that there was preaching each day, I felt it was a sort of proselytizing. However, I see now that it is there for those who truly desire a way back to God. And the desire is really there. I do find preaching to be very enjoyable. I always wondered if my tendency for things intellectual would get in the way. It has at times and one learns from that. However, I think it has been a help in that it helps me penetrate, with Christ, the mystery of their yearnings, desires, pains, and sufferings and then offering them the Gospel as the answer to all that they desire. Yet when I offer it, it is in simple terms, but penetrated with meaning. I have seen that this has been working more or less, for which I am grateful. We don’t do it for success (and, to be frank, most of the people are drunk and will forget everything I just said by the time the following day arrives). We do it because it is a way of making Christ’s love present and active for their lives.
Also, yesterday I went to the prison with the sisters. That was my first time in a prison. We even saw some of the men we serve at the soup kitchen. We brought them candy and prayer cards to bring them a small bit of Christmas joy. I recalled Jesus’ words “I was in prison and you visited me”. It was a very profound experience. I had no fear even though often I was surrounded by man large men who could easily beat me up! Some could care less, some were deeply moved. But we did it all for all of them, regardless of the response we got, knowing that they were loved and, by doing so, that Christ is loved in them. They are just as deserving of God’s mercy as anyone else. Though those who think prisons to be places of luxury are sorely mistaken. I would never want to live in a place like that and thus see the great grace and value of visiting those in prison.
If you have the time, though, please do pray for the men and women we serve. They need God’s grace so badly and need victim-souls who will intercede on their behalf, who will offer fastings, sacrifices, and penances on their behalf. I think of the story of St Therese and the murderer who converted just before his execution. We can do that too. We don’t even need to know their name, but simply offer it for one of the souls served here, perhaps even trusting that God will apply the grace accordingly for the one who needs it the most. These men and women suffer, they want freedom from their addictions so very badly. We have the opportunity to help them spiritually – which is the greatest gift we can offer – so I encourage anyone who is reading this, especially for the remainder of Advent or as a practice for Lent, to do some sacrifices, willing and intentionally, for those we serve here. They need it so much. Then, when we approach the gates of Heaven, they will be our friends interceding and welcoming us into the kingdom with Christ.
A Blessed and Joyful Christmas to you all!
in Christ through Mary