“Syncing Up” Ourselves: A Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent

By Jessica Williamson

Click here for the Mass readings

 

Overwhelmingly, the themes that strike me in this Sunday’s Mass readings are those of belief and faith. While closely intertwined, our beliefs are doctrine. Our faith is more intangible: a feeling, a relationship, our personal way in which doctrine colors our life experiences and how we view the world.

The Psalm response is “Be with me Lord, when I am in trouble.”  This is one of my favorite Psalms, also made into the beautiful hymn, “On Eagles Wings.”  This hymn often brings a tear to the eye, perhaps bringing to mind those we have lost. We are assured that God “has us” just as he has those who have gone before us, and with whom we will be reunited because of our faith in the Resurrection. While life is full of challenges, heartache, and hardship, knowing I have God to call on any second of any day helps me through those difficult times. I don’t know what I would do without my faith, in both difficult and joyous times. (Thanks, mom and dad!)

The second reading says, “the word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart.”  We can be good Catholics in outward appearance, as we attend Mass, receive Eucharist, recite prayers – but are we really practicing what we say we believe? Do our words and actions in our daily lives line up with our beliefs and faith? This can be a challenging undertaking. As Jesus fasted and was tempted for forty days in the desert, we too encounter temptation every day in testing the “unity” of our faith with how we live our lives. Lent gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect, and to recalibrate ourselves in “syncing” our hearts, words, and actions.

-Jessica Williamson is the Business Manager for the Mission Helpers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK: THEY COME BACK SINGING

By GARY SMITH, SJ
LOYOLA PRESS, 2008

Book Review by Marilyn Dunphy

In the 1990s Gary Smith found himself contemplating yet another turn in his life.  Smith, a Jesuit priest ministering to prison inmates and homeless people in Portland, Oregon, felt called to something else. The “something” felt like it was radical call, not just a tweaking of his then-current life.

After much discerning and with the approval of his Provincial superiors, Smith, then age 63, left for Uganda in 2000 to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service.  He would spend the next six years providing pastoral care and catechetical training to Sudanese refugees.

Smith’s life had already seen at least two major shifts:  converting to Catholicism after years of espousing atheism, then entering the Jesuits and being ordained to the priesthood.

“They Come Back Singing” emerges from Smith’s journal of his time working with the Sudanese refugees who fled to northern Uganda to escape the ravages of the civil war in Sudan.  Smith describes his book as a “portrait of refugee hearts” and a “story of mission.”  It is a deeply moving, elegantly written account of his experience.

Smith is the antithesis of the aloof cleric or the judgmental Westerner. He comes to know and love the people he ministers to and freely acknowledges how he is changed by them. In the face of overwhelming infant, child and maternal mortality as well as violence, he comforts the grieving, provides material assistance and tries to come to grips with his own sense of outrage over such poverty and deprivation.  He enters into their suffering without reservation, and the bonds of friendship and affection between priest and people are apparent.

But the book is not a portrait of darkness. Smith captures the resiliency and vibrant spirit of these people as they face continuing hardship.  We see how their faith and strong sense of community sustain the refugees. We are invited into celebrations with food, music and dancing, and we marvel at their gratitude and hope for the future. We see young people determined to get an education and women demanding their rightful place in society.

Smith’s sense of humor (often self-deprecating) is evident in this book as is his honesty about his occasional callousness and impatience with the never-ending needs of the refugees.  His articulation of his own inner spiritual journey is both inspiring and instructive.

The subtitle of this book is “Finding God with the Refugees,” which is a variation on the Jesuit motto “Finding God in All Things.” In reading this book you will see how both Smith and the refugees find and hold onto God in their situation.
Chances are that after reading it, you will find God anew yourself.