Periodically I write spiritual reflections for this great site, Catholics on Call. I had signed up to write today’s liturgy reflection months ago, and was blessed to see how much my Zambian experienced tied into these readings.
Scripture Reflection for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King (November 20, 2011)
Ezekiel 34:11-12; 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Sometimes the message from Scripture jumps off the page and directly into your life. This Sunday’s readings have done just that.
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia. Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD were hosting a conference in Southern Africa and invited me to present. In order to get the most out of my trip, my boss encouraged me to see if I could connect with others who were working in Zambia.
And, boy, did I luck out! The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate hosted me for a few days before my conference began. I traveled by myself to the western province of Mongu, where the Oblates have many ministries. However, it was in those few days, that I realized my struggle with trust.
My first day was not as I would plan it. I traveled alone on a bus for 7.5 hours, but had no local currency, no working cell phone, and my contact was not at the bus stop to pick me up! After waiting as inconspicuously as I could for a half hour, I connected with my ride.
From there, we made our way over to the Diocesan Center. I met with Fr. Michael, the finance director. While I was grateful for the meeting, I was a little confused as to what I was supposed to ask or what to do. Playing the role of an interviewer, I learned about funding shortages, how changes in the current U.S. government were connected to less monetary benefit for Mongu, especially for the thriving home based care for AIDS patients. Nearly 1 in 7 persons is HIV positive in Zambia. With less aid, people who were depending on the Diocese for help are facing a new challenge.
In hearing of the struggles, I wanted to do something. Could I donate money, or could others? Could I help fix some of these issues? I felt compelled to act. However, God lead me back to my calling for this trip through Fr. Michael. He told me to share the story of Mongu. He did not ask me to take action; he did not ask me to find funders for their wonderful programs. He asked me to tell others of the poverty, but also the wonderful hope and programs that do exist.
What do these stories have to do with this week’s liturgy? Much.
When I arrived in Mongu, I was lost, without others. But just as we are informed in the first reading, God promises to seek out the lost. If one wanders away, we should trust that He will call them back. And God did. He lead me to Father Michael, solving my literal sense of being lost, but also the figurative lost sense, the confusion I had in the purpose of my trip. My role wasn’t to fix everything I saw; rather it was to be present.
In the second reading, we hear of that same idea of “being” rather than “doing” on a much larger and significant scale: our salvation. Contrary to what we may feel at times, we do not need to do anything in order to “earn” our salvation. Christ has already won that for us. I do not need to earn my place at His table. What a beautiful relationship this is, that I can just “be” with God.
Yet in the Gospel we hear of acting for the benefit of others; providing them with food or drink, shelter or companionship. Jesus explains that this is truly doing for God. Instead of doing to secure our place in Heaven, we do out of compassion for our Brothers and Sisters.
I certainly experienced this in Mongu! This trip forced me to rely heavily on others. I had no safeties in place: no cash, no phone, no friends, nor did I even have a place to lay my head when I left the US! Having so many unknowns is not in my realm of comfort! Regardless, just like those in Matthew’s Gospel, I had to trust in God by trusting others.
What do these experiences and reflections leave me with? The question of “do I trust enough”? As I struggled to count on others, I realized my strong independent nature. Not only does that provide me with assumed safety and control, it also allows me to DO, but mostly for the benefit of myself! Being so independent allows me to act, to plan, to foresee, to try to make things go as I wish. This seems a bit headstrong for a sheep!
I have also reflected on my motivation to find a way to help those in Mongu. Was it out of pure compassion, or wanting to make myself feel better, feel useful? By assuming that I was supposed to act, I may have missed the true purpose God had meant for me, to listen and be with Fr. Michael. Thank goodness he spoke up!
As I sit writing this a week later, I am more comfortable will the fact that I did not concretely change anything in Mongu. Rather, I realize that the reverse happened. Mongu left a mark on me, one that says: TRUST.