Faith in Action: A Summer of Prayer and Service I Will Never Forget – Catholic Standard
Summer has always been a fun time for me, and I suspect that is true for most of us. Some of my fondest memories are spending time with friends on the neighborhood tennis courts and pool, family vacations, camps, barbecues, and a more leisurely pace of life.
Not all of my summers have been like this, and I think of one particular summer this year a little over 20 years ago that I wouldn’t call fun, but it was filled with joy and had a lasting effect. on me.
That summer I took a trip to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. I was pastor of Our Lady of Mercy at the time, and one of our parishioners developed a program called the Mother Teresa Project in which a priest and three seminarians spent a little over a month working there. directly with the Sisters of Charity and those they serve daily.
I went there about three years after Mother Teresa died, but her presence was felt and her influence strong. The commitment of the sisters to service was truly formative for me and for all those who were with us.
My prayer life on this trip was perhaps the best it has ever been. The day started early with morning mass for the sisters, which I had the privilege to offer. A full day’s work was followed in the evening of worship. I strongly believe in the benefits of structuring your prayer time, and the structure of these two bookends makes it a very prayerful and beautiful experience.
I can’t even describe how beautiful it was to work side by side with the sisters. The days were long and difficult, but the presence of the Lord was all around us. We have worked in the home for the dying (Kalighat), the home for the disabled, a leper colony and with children and young mothers in various homes. At all times and places, the sisters were the epitome of what it means to love and serve unconditionally, without a doubt, without holding anything back.
One of my most vivid memories and special moments came when I was asked to bless the convent where the sisters lived. I was invited upstairs to their room – a room with probably 40 or 50 beds. Above each bed hung a sari, their white and blue coat, and below each bed was a single shoebox containing their belongings.
Let it sink in for a moment. All of your belongings are hung above your bed or below in a shoebox. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? And yet the sisters were radiating joy, happiness and love for all. Their joy did not come from their possessions but from their relationship with the Lord. Loving God and their neighbor was everything to them.
I also appreciated the chance to guide a few seminarians at the start of their journey and help them experience the gifts of prayer and service. We often went to the same places during ministry days, and had dinner together every night. It gave us the opportunity to share our experiences of serving the poor and the lessons we have learned every day.
Twenty years later, many of the deepest gifts of that experience are with me. I think my prayer life is even better in the summer because of the different schedule. Advent and Lent have been and will be my key periods of devotion to prayer. The Church provides us with a very useful structure to prepare for the Lord’s birth and the resurrection.
Summer is calmer. This is by no means a break from prayer, but it is an opportunity to slow down enough to hear the voice of the Lord and respond with more love. There is time to reflect and reflect more deeply on things that are important for my vocation and for our service in Catholic charities.
I also remember the importance of âsaying yesâ which is our motto at Catholic Charities. Mother Teresa responded to the Lord with a resounding yes, establishing a community of sisters who care for those in need in such a beautiful way. Seeing the sisters and their commitment to their work was a beautiful gift that I brought with me.
Twenty years after the trip and 10 years after coming to Catholic Charities, I do my best to bring this same gift to the agency every day. Much of the past decade has shared this vision with our staff and those we serve in a way that I hope would make Mother Teresa proud.
I often think of his statement that God does not require us to be successful, only faithful. I see it every day in our clients, staff, volunteers and donors. We try to be faithful. We are present. We do our best every day, often with great success, but sometimes with partial or even limited success.
Whatever the outcome, we persevere by remaining faithful to the ministry of service. We truly recognize Jesus in the poorest of the poor. And we bring this gift of Jesus to everyone we meet on a daily basis. I thank God for all of you who made this work possible with your time, talent and treasure.
God had a plan when I left for Calcutta a little over 20 years ago. To this day, I remember the joy of being there despite the heartbreaking conditions. I still feel the wonder of prayer and service coming together and the strong presence of the Lord. This summer, I am recommitting myself to energizing my prayer life as best I can through my fidelity and to energizing my own works of service as well as all that we do in Catholic charities.
Through loyalty, perseverance and working together, we can make a difference for everyone.
(Bishop Enzler is President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)