Day 4: Faith Center
When the high-pitched ringing of morning bells woke me on day 4, I couldn’t help but cling to my mattress for a few extra minutes of sleep. I was exhausted! I began to rattle off excuses for missing Morning Prayer; I couldn’t serve the poor if I wasn’t rested, missing one Holy Hour wouldn’t affect me, this stiff and squeaky bunk is much too comfortable! Throughout all my incessant whining, a solid conviction rang out in the depths of my heart, “You Need This Prayer.” I rolled off the mattress and trudged to the chapel.
Reaching the chapel felt like a miniature victory. I surveyed the lethargic group of seminarians and noticed we were all suffering from fatigue. Despite the severe drowsiness, we finished our 2 hours of prayer and began to head upstairs for breakfast. As I was leaving the chapel, a fellow seminarian patted me on the back and whispered, “Let’s go save the world.” He then turned and trotted up the staircase. Looking back on it, I’m not exactly sure what he meant. We weren’t saving the world, we were in Kingston, Jamaica. We were worn down seminarians who hadn’t shaved for days (we looked scrappy). We certainly didn’t look like superheroes, and we definitely didn’t feel like saving the world. However, after hearing his words, a small seed of energy began to sprout in my heart. It grew and intensified as I ascended the staircase. Finally, when I reached the top step, the tiny seed had blossomed into an outpouring of confidence. I blinked away the drowsiness from my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I was ready to serve.
After breakfast we piled into the truck and began our familiar route through the slums. Before long, the driver parked the truck outside a rusty looking compound and shouted, “Faith Center!” This was my destination for the day. We hopped down from the truck and walked through the gates. Faith Center was a compound for grown men with disabilities. Like Bethlehem, I would be helping people with disfigurements and severe mental disorders. This time, however, I wouldn’t be working with teenagers or cute babies; I’d be working with grown men. As I walked into the Faith Center, I could immediately tell this center had the worst conditions of them all. Everything was outdoors! Their eating area floor was covered with dirt and their sleeping quarters looked filthy and cramped. The brothers led me and another seminarian to a pile of grimy mattresses which were lying in the sun. He handed us bucket of soapy water with two wash rags and asked us if we’d help clean the mattresses. We scrubbed down the gritty, smelly mattresses as best we could. Unlike Bethlehem, the residents in the Faith Center did not wear diapers so cleaning the mattresses was extra challenging. We scrubbed nearly 60 mattresses until the water in our bucket began to turn murky. Finally, we heard the ringing of bells for lunch. For the first time all week, I rejoiced at the sound of those bells. I told myself I wasn’t hungry after what I had just done, but my growling stomach quickly changed my mind. Before eating, I made sure to wash my hands…twice.
We ate rice and beans alongside the Missionaries of the Poor. We pondered how these brothers could serve the poor each and every day; cleaning dirty mattresses, changing diapers, and performing many other difficult (and at times, disgusting) works of charity. It appeared to be such a monotonous and miserable life! One seminarian in our group finally got the courage to ask a brother, “Is this work fun for you?” The brother put down his fork and looked at him with a gentle grin, “The work is not fun, no.” We seminarians stared at each other perplexed. The brother continued, “Doing God’s will is not always easy, correct? What is God’s will? It is to love, yes? Is loving easy? People may think so, but love can be very painful.” We were doing our best to think up with answers to his many questions. The brother didn’t wait for our reply, “Look at the cross! Was Jesus having fun when he was nailed to the cross?” This time he waited for us. I looked to my fellow seminarian and then back to the brother, “No….” I cautiously stammered. “Exactly! He wasn’t having fun! But here’s the beautiful thing; although he wasn’t having fun, he was dying joyfully!” I thought briefly about this interesting paradox –a man dying joyfully. Meanwhile, the brother was gaining momentum, “Jesus died joyfully on the cross because he knew he was fulfilling his Father’s will. He knew he was saving you from death by dying on the cross. He was joyful because he knew he was loving you!” As the brother spoke, I could see his face light up with enchantment. It seemed as if his entire body was glowing with delight. This is when the brother informed us of their creed; “Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.” I could see the brothers at the Missionary of the Poor desire to love more than anything. The brothers wanted to love like Christ, so they gave up everything, even their own lives, to love those with nothing. I could now see the paradox. This brother, after giving up everything, truly possessed everything! He gave up his whole life to love Christ in the Poor. He gave up his life to love God.
I left the meal a changed man. I could see all the attachments in my own life which were preventing me from loving God. I realized that one day, all my material attachments would be gone. Was I allowing myself to give up everything –my love for God– for nothing? A man tossed a Frisbee in my direction. I looked up to see a hunched over Jamaican man wearing a large T-shirt. He hobbled over to me and smiled. I picked up the disc and joined the man for nearly an hour of toss-and-catch. Several other men began to take interest in our game. A boy named Jason hesitantly walked over. Jason had a tremendous growth which completely masked one half of his face. One eye was angled upwards and his mouth could hardly open. I lowered the disc and asked if he cared to join us. He began to smile and gave a gentle head nod. I played Frisbee with my two new friends until the bus arrived to pick us up. Throughout the rest of the evening, I couldn’t refrain from thinking about the words spoken by the brother, “Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.”
As crawled into my mosquito netted bunk, I paused to recount all the events of the day. Love isn’t always fun. I clenched my mattress and remembered the struggle of waking up for Holy Hour in the morning. When times are challenging and we begin to slip into darkness and doubt, a simple whisper from a friend can rekindle our inner flame, “Let’s go save the world.” From my discussion with the brother, I learned that giving up my life for another person is the greatest love on earth. I began to drift off into sleep, but not before remembering what the brothers had taught me. True love is not always easy, in fact it can feel like being nailed to a cross. Yet, this is the love that matters. This is the love that brings the most abundant joy, and this is the love our Father has for us all.
Prayer: Father, you are my everything.