As a boy I remember prayer was never far from my mother’s lips. A quick Ave Maria Purisma (Hail Mary full of grace) in the face of looming storm clouds across the Texas plain comes to mind. Prayer is a surge of the heart; a simple look toward heaven, embracing both trial and joy.
My mother taught me that prayer is an ongoing conversation of the heart which brings us into relationship with God. It is that primary relationship with God which impels us to be in relationship with this world. The intermingling of the otherworldly with the worldly is God’s love incarnate. As a Church, we are called to relate to our world with love and joy.
As a Society with members from all over the world, we share a spirit of mission to serve others, especially the poor. At our recent annual Columban retreat, I was reminded that we are often described as missionaries of the people. We have a tradition in the U.S. that following our annual retreat we gather in thanksgiving at our retirement home where we celebrate with our brothers by commemorating their jubilees with Eucharist and a good meal with family and friends.
“I’m not going to work. I’m going to be a priest.”
Stephen’s answer reflected what many Columbans believe about their vocation.
At our most recent celebration, one of the jubilarians, Fr. John Marley, shared a story that I want to pass on to you: Once on my home vacation from the missions, I stayed with my older sister and her family. At that time, their neighbors were a young couple and their two children, Marina, age nine, and Stephen, age six.
One day the children were in the local store where some of the area farmers were relaxing. The farmers asked the children what plans they had for when they were grownups.
Marina had no problem answering. She was going to be a nurse in the city hospital. Stephen was uncomfortable and kept his head down. Curious, the farmers urged him to answer, “Come on, Stephen; don’t be shy. Tell us what you’re going to be when you grow up.” Stephen continued looking at his shoes.
Finally someone coaxed him, “Whisper, Stephen. What would you like to work at when you grow up?” Stephen did not look up, but answered in a clear soft voice: “I’m not going to work. I’m going to be a priest.”
Stephen’s answer reflected what many Columbans believe about their vocation. While our many years of service in the harvest of the Lord are indeed work, it is work that brings profound joy to our lives and others. It is the relationship with God, nurtured in prayer, which attracts others like you who, through your generous support, your prayers and your service, join us in God’s mission.
We are grateful for the opportunity to serve. That is what our jubilee celebrates.
The article originally appears in the December 2010 issue of Columban Mission.