The Season of Lent always calls me back to the powerful words that Christ gave to us in the Gospel of Matthew. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It seems that each year at this time we search for something to “give up” that would both serve to draw us closer to a life with Christ and stand as a symbol of our faith as we anticipate the celebration of His resurrection.
When I reflect on my own Lenten obligation, in the light of Christ’s words to us in Matthew 16:25, I sometimes find my sacrifice lacking. I had the privilege and honor of spending time with two of our wonderful Columban lay missionaries to the Philippines this past November, Anna Flores, from Peru and Noh Hyein “Anna” from Korea. Both are young teachers back in their home countries, who in the budding early years of their careers, made the decision to “give up” their lives of comfort and routine and take the unknown plunge into God’s service and the ambiguity of the missionary life; their goal, to cross barriers of language and culture to bring friendship, understanding, peace and love and to make a difference in the world.
Both of their families had reservations about such an adventure for them, but in true keeping with the words of Matthew’s Gospel, those reservations were accepted as just that by both of these strong women and they embarked upon a sacrifice that would forever change them. Anna, from Peru works in the province of Mindanao. Her work has been consumed of late by the typhoon of two years ago that wiped out entire villages, killing countless and making thousands of already impoverished people homeless. She has been working tirelessly with other nonprofits and NGO’s to build new homes, villages and lives for the people impacted by this violent storm. With the help of generous Columban benefactors, the Filipino people, other Columbans and their partners, Anna has helped to construct 400 homes for the displaced people of Mindanao.
Anna, from Korea, works in one of the poorer parishes in Manila. It is a parish made up of many “squatter villages” and homeless street people. It is in one of the more dangerous parts of Manila. A piece of Anna’s ministry is an economic project. She works with and has taught abused, impoverished and homeless Filipina women how to make wonderful candles of hope to sell. They have learned together as Anna recounted “at the beginning, I knew nothing of how to make and market candles either!” Her work is full of prayer and learning. Together, with these women, she has created a business model, solicited partners, managed expenses, and managed labor. Anna proudly showed me the products they created together and also made sure to remind me that she, not the women she works with, has been blessed by the profoundness of change in her life. By the way, Anna has now lived in a tiny one room apartment in one of the poorest slum sections of Manila for three years now and she is one of the happiest women that I have ever met.
Sacrifices come in all shapes and all sizes. As I share my reflection this Lenten Season, I have decided not to dwell on the size of my sacrifice, but rather how it relates to what Christ asks of us; knowing that whatever sacrifice that I have to give, will never measure up to His sacrifice for me.