Editorial Note: Catherine Coffey is a graduate of the Echo program in the McGrath Institute for Church Life. Echo provides students the opportunity to earn a Master's degree from Notre Dame while gaining real-world experience in parish ministry or teaching high school theology, all while receiving robust spiritual and human formation. Applications for the next Echo community are due January 10, 2020. Learn more here.
“When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30–31). Like the bread of the Eucharistic celebration, I, too, have been taken, blessed, broken, and called to share Christ in the world.
When I was in college, I got accepted to the Arrupe International Immersion Program. One part of the program was meeting as an intentional faith community, and as we grew closer, I started to see how loving relationships are windows into the transcendent. If God is love (see 1 John 4:16), I started to encounter God more clearly through this community. Taken and blessed.
The second part of the program was an immersion experience in Latin America. My group traveled to El Salvador and did a homestay for one night in a small village in the countryside. Anna, my host mom, welcomed us into her modest home, which had a dirt floor and doors that didn’t latch. I tried to ignore how uncomfortable I was, and utterly failed. All I could tell myself all night was, “You get to leave tomorrow.” As I sat on the bus the next morning, I felt grateful to be leaving. And then it hit me—all I was doing was wishing to escape someone else’s reality. What about Anna? What if she wanted to leave? What if she wanted a bed and running water? Crushed by my own privilege and the reality of Anna’s life that I could never un-see, I cried the rest of the bus ride to San Salvador. Taken, blessed, broken.
Thankfully, as our community unpacked the experience, we drew out conclusions about who God is that changed my life. Now, when I recall my experience with Anna, I don’t think about the spiders or the dirt floor. I think about her worn hands making papusas over the fire, her eyes lighting up when her granddaughter brought her wildflowers, and hearing her talk about a faith in God that I didn’t understand. How could this woman, who has suffered so much, still hope in a loving God? Anna knew something deeply profound about life: that it is good, and that it should be spent loving others.
Life isn’t about your GPA, your Instagram followers, or even whether you have electricity or running water. None of those things reflect the value of a human person. We don’t have control over the deepest realities of our lives—where we are born, whom we are given to love, when or how we will die. What we are given is the ability and freedom to love others. God loves us into being; therefore, the very act of being is a good thing.
It doesn’t always feel like such is the case. Every person suffers. But God knows what it means to suffer, and he hasn’t left us alone in it. He sent his own Son into the world to suffer alongside us. God didn’t say, ‘It sure stinks to be human.’ He said, ‘I believe it is so radically good to be human, that I will become one too. I will be born when no one has space for me, I will be betrayed by my friends, and I will even die on a Cross. And I know that all of this will be incredibly hard, but also that it is good.’
To help us on our journey, God has provided concrete ways of building relationship with him. When you have a bad day, there’s a Psalm that speaks to your emotions. When you need to feel closer to Christ, you can find him in the tabernacle. Prayer and the sacraments offer us beautiful ways of being closer to God so we remember that the darkness cannot overcome the light, that after the Cross comes the Resurrection.
Through meeting Anna, and because of that community, I have chosen love and I have chosen God. I have pitched my tent in the perspective that to be alive is good and I’ve learned to lean into and even fight for that perspective when it gets difficult. Taken, blessed, broken, and now, sharing it as often and loudly as I am able.
Featured Image: conger design