Seminarian Ben Baker, along with several others from St. John Vianney Seminary, is in India right now on a pilgrimage/mission trip to help the poor though the Missionaries of Charity sisters, founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata.
They're keeping a blog during their trip. Here is Ben's first entry. You can read the rest here.
Walking through the streets of Kolkata has been one of my favorite parts of this trip so far. On Tuesday and Wednesday my group of volunteers walks to our volunteer site. It’s about a 30-minute walk and it takes us through the heart of the Kolkata neighborhoods – the very streets that Mother Teresa herself used to walk. The best way to describe the walk is that the city assaults your senses. I’ve never encountered anything like this before. It truly is a whole new world. The sounds of the incessant honking, the street chatter, the barking dogs, and the roadside bargaining create a harmonious cacophony. The sights of the beautiful saris, people taking baths in the street, smiling faces, and the sun setting over the Hooghly (Ganges) River creates quite the collage. The smells of raw meat, curry, and garbage work together to sting the nostrils. Constantly bumping into people, and shaking hands with the men we are serving, adds a touch of humanity to the commotion. And the new foods are challenging the boundaries of what I thought my palate could handle. As I reflect on this “new world” that I’m encountering, I see that this is another expression of God’s heart. These people of Kolkata that he loves are not that much different than us, but the differences that do exist are simply a different part of God’s heart being expressed in this vast universe that he has created.
In soaking in this new-found beauty of God I am filled with love and wish to do “something beautiful for Him.” Luckily, I can follow in the footsteps of the person who voiced these very words. Mother Teresa encountered God’s heart and this led her to minister to His forgotten children, those marginalized by society and she showed his love. She realized that God thirsted with love for her, but not just for her, but for every soul that He had created. In return she wished to satiate this thirst by showing his love to the poorest of the poor. This type of spirit is exactly what I wish to channel on this trip, and as I pray every day in front of Mother’s tomb I ask that I may be a worthy vessel of God’s love.
Yet, like any good thing, this is not as easy as it seems. I have found it difficult to interact with the men that I am serving. I have served at Prem Dan (a home for men) and Kalighat (a home for the dying destitute). There is a language barrier and I feel awkward when trying to interact. I have this love built up inside my heart and wish to show God’s love to each and every soul I come in contact with, but I have no idea how. I’ve found it is easier to busy myself washing dishes, or ringing out laundry, rather than simply sitting in awkward silence with the men. Yet, I continuously feel the Holy Spirit pushing me out of my comfort zone and insisting that I simply be with the men.
In talking to some of my brothers about this experience I’ve learned that some feel the same. In processing how we are feeling we’ve come to understand that many of us want to feel useful. As American males we want to know that we are doing something and fixing the problems. We see the streets of Kolkata and the people we are ministering to and some of us wonder if simply sitting with them in silence is doing any good at all. However, we did not come to Kolkata to fix problems. We did not come to Kolkata to be useful. We came to Kolkata because we have encountered God’s incredible and unconditional love and felt compelled to share that. We felt compelled to serve him, to serve him hidden in the poor. For truly God resides in each soul. And sometimes God may not want us to say beautiful things, or do great acts of service. Sometimes Gods just wants us to sit with him in silence.
With this in mind the other day I was at Prem Dan. We had finished laundry for the day and were waiting for the food to arrive so we could serve lunch. I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go interact with a specific man. Reluctantly I went over and said hello. His face lit up and he eagerly shook my hand. He traded some words in broken English. After a long pause in the conversation he patted to the spot on the cement that he was sitting on and invited me to sit down. We traded some more broken English. After a while of sitting in silence I was beginning to think I should go do something useful or at least go spend time with another resident. But just as I was about to get up I felt compelled to remain seated and as if reading my mind, the man motioned to me to stay put. Another few minutes of silence followed and all of a sudden the man began lovingly rubbing my back. I couldn’t believe it. Here is a man in destitute poverty that I should be serving. I want to show him the love of God, but here he is showing me the Father’s indescribable love. A love so indescribable that only a gentle rub on the back can truly begin to express this love. Sometimes God just wants to sit in silence with us and sometimes he thanks us by rubbing our back. Praised be Jesus Christ.