Disclaimer: If you are looking forward to the SSJ Mission Corps Newsletter, you probably shouldn't read the following entry, as it is my piece in the newsletter. Consider yourself warned. If you're not waiting on the newsletter (or just can't wait), dive on in!
Right before I began my current adventure with the Mission Corps I wrote a blog entry entitled "The beginning of an end ends up at the beginning." It recounted the transition I would be undergoing in the months to follow and explained what would dominate my blog for the majority of the coming year. Now as I near the end of my time with the Mission Corps, I could easily write a piece with the same title all over again.
As I look back on the year that has passed many thoughts come to mind. From moments of triumph and trial in my ministry at the Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center at Visitation to times of stress and success in community, the year has been full of grace and looking back on it my heart is filled with much gratitude.
There is no way that last summer I could have fathomed the abundant grace that awaited me in Philadelphia. As our orientation drew to a close in August, I still really had no idea what my job would be for the year. Sure, I had a brief job description with five points on it, but the first four points on the list were so varied there was no telling what tasks would dominate my days. Then there was the fifth bullet on the description: "Whatever else is asked or needed." If that isn't a tall (and very ambiguous) order then I don't know what is.
But as the Sisters of St. Joseph are so apt to say- we're ready for any good work. Embracing that mission, I took to my ministry with a generous spirit and an openness to everything, especially the "whatever else", that lay ahead of me. What awaited me was grace beyond my wildest imagination.
In many ways, I can't describe the grace that I've been blessed to encounter in person throughout this year. It is the grace that hovers in the space between two people as one tells the other their most intimate needs. It is the moment when you are welcomed not as a savior but as a friend and companion. It is the sense of witnessing subtle change as you watch trust replace timidity in a child who has disregarded you for hours of mandatory community service only to find a safe and comforting space in your presence. All of that has been grace and so much more.
When I first wrote in the fall, I rejoiced that the choice I had made to come to Philadelphia seemed to be the right one. I felt at peace with that decision and all of the subsequent decisions that were necessary to guide me here. Now, I can say that it was grace that lead me thus far and, I believe, it is grace that leads me still.
God works small wonders each day. From observations of beauty as I walk to Visitation in the morning to hard-fought and tear-wrought lessons of surrender in serving others, living justly, and binding your lot in community, God never fails. Grace is abundant to the point that no matter how busy I find myself, it breaks through. This is nothing if not a blessing. It has taught me to feel each moment and face the reality of a situation or relationship with honesty and compassion. Like many lessons, it has not been easy. Yet looking back on all that I have been allowed to experience and, ultimately, what I have opened my heart to experience, I wouldn't trade that lesson for the world.
The grace I was familiar with before has been transformed in wondrous ways. I now find my heart open to conversion and ready to experience love in new ways. God has met me in the unknown and unfamiliar. Newness of being with and relating to the Divine arose and, despite my best predictions, the change I expected to occur and the lessons I anticipated learning were radically different and yet peacefully resplendent when they came to fruition.
For this and for this entire year, I give thanks. Just as there is no perfect way to capture the grace I've experienced this year, the gratitude I have for having lived it also escapes words.
Suffice it to say that for each grace and blessing I am truly grateful- to Kensington for allowing me to live and work in a neighborhood that has silently charmed me and allowed me to experience what it means to be stranger; to Sister Karen Owens, SSJ and the entire staff of the Bevilacqua Center for support, guidance, and the reassurance that no day at the Center will ever look like the one before; to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill for the opportunity to share in your mission and the amazing witness that you bear as individuals and a congregation to the power of God's love to unite, heal, and transform in all situations; and finally to my community, Gabi and Barbara, for the many lessons you have taught me about life and about myself, chief among them being laugh, wash the dishes that aren't yours, heart can go a long way, and if you spend too much time in your own head, laugh and get on with living.
As the beginning of an end ends up at the beginning, so do I. This year wasn't easy, nor did it promise to be, but it was the challenge I needed and the challenge I wanted. Taking all that I have learned in the Mission Corps, I move forward, excited for what comes next and ready to actively and attentively say "yes" to whatever that may bring. I can only hope that the place of gratitude and grace where I have ended up isn't an end at all but another step in the wonderful journey I am already on.