|To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation!|
Continuing on the last post of Evangelization a good friend of mine sent me this excerpt by Fr. Henri Nouwen writing on mission and what mission meant to him. His paradigm or starting point for mission was the Eucharist! This is a profound passage taken from his book titled "With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life".
I am deeply aware of my own tendency to want to go from communion to ministry without forming community. My individualism and desire for personal success ever and again tempt me to do it alone and to claim the task of ministry for myself. But Jesus himself didn't preach and heal alone. Luke, the Evangelist, tells us how he spent the night in communion with God, the morning to form community with the twelve apostles, and the afternoon to community to ministry. He does not want us to go out alone. He sends us out together, two by two, never by ourselves. And so we can witness as people who belong to a body of faith. We are sent out to teach, to heal, to inspire, and to offer to the world-not as the exercise of our unique skill, but as the expression of our faith that all we have to give comes from him who brought us together.
Life lived Eucharistically is always a life of mission. We live in a world groaning under its losses: the merciless wars destroying people and their countries, the hunger and starvation decimating whole populations, crime and violence holding millions of men, women, and children in fear. Cancer and AIDS, cholera, malaria, and many other diseases devastating the bodies of countless people; earthquakes, floods, and traffic disasters...it's story of everyday life filling the newspapers and television screens. It is a world of endless losses, and many, if not most, our fellow human beings walk with faces downcast on the surface of this planet. They say in some way or another: "Our hope had been...but we lost hope."
This is the world we are sent to live in Eucharistically, that is, to live with burning hearts and with open ears and open eyes. It seems an impossible task. What can this small group of people who met him on the road, in the garden, or at the lakeside do in such a dark and violent world? The mystery of God's love is that our burning hearts and our receptive ears and eyes will be able to discover that the One we met in the intimacy of our homes continues to reveal himself to us among the poor, the sick, the hungry, the prisoners, the refugees, and all people who live in fear.
Here we come to realize that mission is not only to go and tell others about the risen Lord, but also to receive that witness from those to whom we are sent. Often mission is thought of exclusively in terms of giving, but true mission is also receiving. If it is true that the Spirit of Jesus blows where it wants, there is no person who cannot give that Spirit. In the long run, mission is possible only when it is as much receiving as giving, as much being cared for as caring. We are sent to the sick, the dying, the handicapped, the prisoners, and the refugees to bring them the good news of the Lord's resurrection. But we will soon be burned out if we cannot receive the Spirit of the Lord from those to whom we are sent.
The Spirit, the Spirit of love, is hidden in their poverty, brokenness, and grief. That is why Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor, the persecuted, and those who mourn." Each time we reach out to them they in turn-whether they are aware of it or not-will bless us with the Spirit of Jesus and so become our ministers. Without this mutuality of giving and receiving, mission and ministry easily become manipulative or violent. When only one gives and the other receives, the giver will soon become an oppressor and the receivers, victims. But when the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world.
It belongs to the essence of the Eucharistic life to make this circle of love grow. Having entered into communion with Jesus and created community with those who know that he is alive, we now can go and join the many lonely travelers and help them discover that they too have the gift of love to share. We are no longer afraid of their sadness and pain, but can ask them simply: "What are you talking about as you walk along the road?" And we will hear stories of immense loneliness, fear, rejection, abandonment, and sadness. We must listen, often for a long time, but there are also opportunities to say with words or simple gestures: "Didn't you know that what you are complaining about can also be lived as a way to something new? May it is impossible to change what has happened to you, but you are still free to choose how to live it."
Not everyone will listen to us and only a few will invite us into their lives to join them at their table. Only seldom will it be possible to offer life-giving bread and truly heal a heart that has been broke. Jesus himself didn't heal everyone, nor change everyone's life. Most people simply don't believe that radical changes are possible and can't give their trust when they meet the strangers. But every time there is a real encounter leading from despair to hope and from bitterness to gratitude, we will see some of the darkness being dispelled and life, once again, breaking through the boundaries of death.
This has been, and continues to be, the experience of those who live a Eucharistic life. They see it as their mission to persistently challenge their fellow travelers to choose gratitude instead of resentment and hope instead of despair. And the few times that this challenge is accepted are enough to make their lives worth living. To see a smile breaking through tears is to witness a miracle-the miracle of joy.
Statistically, none of this is very interesting. Those who ask: "How many people did you reach? How many changes did you bring about? How many illnesses did you cure? How much joy did you create?" will always receive disappointing answers. Jesus and his followers did not have great success. The world is still a dark world, full of violence, corruption, oppression, and exploitation. It will likely always be! The question is not: "How soon and how many?" but "Where and when?" Where is the Eucharist being celebrated, where are the people who come together around the table and break bread together, and when does it happen? The world lies in the power of the evil one. The world does not recognize the light that shines in the darkness. It never did; it never will. But there are people who, in the midst of this world, live with the knowledge that he is alive and dwells within us, that he has overcome the power of death and opens the way to glory. Are there people who come together, who come around the table and do what he did, in memory of him? Are there people who keep telling each other the stories of hope and , together, go out to care for their fellow human beings, not pretending to solve all problems, but to bring a smile to a dying man and a little hope to a lonely child?
It is so little, so unspectacular, yes, so hidden, this Eucharistic life, but it is like yeast, like a mustard seed, like a smile on a baby's face. It is what keeps faith, hope and love alive in a world that is constantly on the brink of self-destruction.
The Eucharist, sometimes, is celebrated with great ceremony, in splendid cathedrals and basilicas. But more often it is a "small" event that few people know about. It happens in a living room, a prison cell, an attic- out of sight of the big movements of the world.
It happens in secret, without vestments, candles, or incense. It happens with gestures so simple that outsiders don't even know that it takes place. But big or small, festive or hidden, it is the same event, revealing that life is stronger than death and love stronger than fear.
Source: Fr. Henri Nouwen, "With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life" (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1994) 79-92.