It’s Thursday evening here in Zambia and today we celebrated the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord, well in fact I celebrated twice, once this morning with Salesian Sisters, in the school they run called ‘City of Hope’, and then again this evening when the entire college came together to celebrate the Feast and to mark our call as Religious: two very different celebrations of the same feast. This morning, we had a small gathering with three Sisters and four young women, who are on a discernment experience, while this evening over 140 friars filled the College Chapel, lifting the roof with vibrant music and song. In this lays the beauty contained in our freedom to celebrate together as we are, where we are, and, really, that is what today’s Feast is all about. It’s about bringing ourselves to the Temple (God), as we are, where we are and, in presenting ourselves, we receive His light to renew and sustain us on our mission, to do His will, thus making present, now, the Kingdom of God, which is ‘Justice, Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit’.
Since coming to Zambia there have been inevitable ups and downs as I try to navigate all the new sights and sounds that are bombarding me. Sometimes I can see them for what they are and, at other times, it’s not so clear cut. Our minds can become fixated on something, especially something we can find difficult or challenging, as we go through the cycle of denial, challenge to acceptance. This happens to us all, in some shape or form, everyday. Through these experiences I am learning to look-through, as best I can, what appears on the surface to what is actually going on underneath.
From a vocational and spiritual perspective, this mission experience has been, and continues to be, a source of deepening. I feel I am coming to know and understand more and more why I have responded to a call to become a Religious and, in particular, a Capuchin Friar. I am also coming to realise my dependence on God, daily, for the strength to do any of this and, probably most profoundly for me, I am realising that none of this (mission experience, vocation etc) is about me, it’s about Christ. It’s about being a vehicle to make Him truly present in the world right now. Everything I am doing here can be an opportunity to do just that and the same applies to us all.
I have noticed that at the times that I have felt most frustrated by something or the times that I have felt most out of place, it is in those times that I have been putting myself at the centre of this experience. When this happens it can take a little wrestling to work through the myriad of feelings to come to a place of balance, realisation, acceptance and prayer. In this place, peacefulness comes with the realisation that this is the Lord being presented not me and anything I do, I do it for Him and not me.
On Friday’s I join a seminar class given by our very own Br Philip on the ‘Anthropology of the Vocational Experience’. A fascinating topic centred on the work of Jesuit and Psychologist, Luigi Rulla. Rulla researched extensively the motivations for entering religious life, what sustains whilst there and if they leave, interestingly enough, he asks ‘what motivated them to join’ in the first place. He says that we are motivated by values and attitudes, centred on an ideal image of self and vocation which, if we enter into it, recognising that there are conflicts and inconsistencies in us and the experience, we can journey towards a state of self-transcendence. Self-transcendence means, for Rulla, going beyond ourselves in order to make Christ present. It also means to recognise Christ in us and our experience so that we strive to emulate Him and, ultimately, to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Why am I saying this? Well, it’s through this very process, of recognising a conflict in me or an inconsistency running in the back of my mind, that has acted as a catalyst and allowed me to enter into dialogue at a new, fresh and deeper level with this experience and ultimately with my own vocation experience.
So these are just some thoughts that have been crossing my mind with regard to the experience of experiencing oneself outside of ones ‘normal’ existence and how this experience, though challenging at times, can prove to be a source of light, illuminating past, present and future.
Happy Feast Day to All Religious and People of Good will and to all those seeking self-transcendence in order to make real the Kingdom of God.