"I realized that we are tasked with more than putting love into the world. We are called to receive this love as well. Love cannot be fully given unless it is fully received."
Driving along the Parkway West towards Pittsburgh International Airport, I began to gather my thoughts for the upcoming trip. Returning to the apostolates of Mustard Seed Communities for the third consecutive year, I had a fairly firm set of expectations for the trip that lay ahead of me. The journey has assumed the character of an annual tradition in my family, each year providing new insights and a renewed vigor in my faith life. The year before, the residents had radically displayed to me the way in which love lies at the core of our faith. Because of the transformative nature of this message, I found myself relying heavily on this voyage as an opportunity to focus the lens of my faith. Trying desperately to transcend the confines of these expectations and participate fully in all that this trip had to offer, I boarded the plane.
Arriving at Jacob’s Ladder helped me to shake some of my preconceived notions. The comfort of Sophie’s Place, the apostolate that we called home during the previous trips, was gone. The residents that we knew by name were no longer living right below us. New faces and new tasks surrounded me, and I was forced to be present. Many of the residents at this apostolate were high functioning, and would spend nearly all of their waking hours around us. Spending such a large amount of time with these men and women, I was astounded by the way that they carried themselves. They acted with a genuine confidence that only results from a thorough understanding of oneself. This self-assuredness was displayed starkly to me in reading the poetry composed by two different residents, Shanice and Erica. Imbued within the lines of both authors’ pieces was a heart-wrenching questioning of their place in the world. Yet, despite their doubts and fears, they each reached the same conclusion: they were made to be loved and they were loved more than they could imagine. Their fears were allayed by a certainty in the knowledge that they were uniquely created by a Deity who desired nothing more than to love them.
Reading this poetry, I realized that we are tasked with more than putting love into the world. We are called to receive this love as well. Love cannot be fully given unless it is fully received. Opening our hearts to the love that surrounds us transforms us into more effective vehicles of love. In order to do this, we must recognize the pointedness with which we were created. Only an embrace of ourselves will enable us to allow love to permeate our entire being. As beautiful as this sounds, it is much easier said than done. Our perceived flaws loom heavy on our hearts and often convince us that we possess inherent weaknesses that make us unlovable. Witnessing the purity of love that is freely given and received by the residents of Mustard Seed Communities, I am certain that it is possible to transcend these obstructions. By opening our hearts to the love that we were designed to receive, we take one step closer to living with the happiness that was intended to fill our lives.
"Caring for others, taking on their problems and offering love in return, validates everything that we have lived for. Loving others is the realest thing that we can do – it’s what we’re called to do."
Flying in as the sun set over the glowing Kingston harbor, I thought back to last year and my first experience with Mustard Seed communities. I knew what lay immediately ahead of me for the evening: we would board the Mustard Seed bus and take a ride through the city into the surrounding mountains. There, along a narrow and winding road, we would enter the gates of Sophie’s Place.
Sure enough, these events unfolded as expected. We pulled up to Sophie’s Place and we all shuffled out of the bus, stiff from a day of traveling. While the new members of the group looked around the nooks and crannies of what would be our home for the week, I let my suitcase fall near the foot of the third set of bunk beds, claiming the familiar top bunk as my own. Because this was my second time staying at Sophie’s Place, I had a feeling of comfort in the apostolate. The feeling of wonder and awe at the fact that I was in Jamaica had been a majority of my experience last year. However, this was now gone. Rather, I found myself focusing more on the children, the mission of Mustard Seed, and how our participation in this tremendous community tied into our faith.
Perhaps my most powerful realization came during the final day of our trip. Our job for the day was to stay at Sophie’s place and care for the residents. During the humid mid-afternoon hours, the sky opened up and we soon found ourselves crammed under the large porch that formed the center of activities at Sophie’s place. Sitting on a swinging bench surrounded by the residents relaxing on large mats, I decided to pick up a young resident named Shanice. Shanice was severely disabled, barely possessing the abilities to move and communicate to any degree beyond feeble whimpers. I sat on the bench with her in my arms and stared into the distant mountains. She soon fell asleep, and I looked to my left to see both my brother and Anthony holding sleeping residents as well. In this moment, it hit me that these children never had parents to do this. They had never fallen asleep in the arms of a mother or father and had been carried up to bed. Despite their extreme vulnerability, they had never been given any simple signs of love that are so routine in our lives.
By giving these children the love that we had, we weren’t going above and beyond in any way. We were simply doing what we are called to do as Catholics. Mustard Seed doesn’t accomplish the unimaginable. Rather, it so fully accomplishes the oft-forgotten mission of our faith that it shocks us. I found that by participating in Mustard Seed’s mission, I was in contact with the core of what makes life, well, life. Caring for others, taking on their problems and offering love in return, validates everything that we have lived for. Loving others is the realest thing that we can do – it’s what we’re called to do.
However, it shouldn’t take holding a disabled child 1,550 miles away from home to realize this. We are called to love and to serve this fully in our everyday lives. By doing so, we are leaving up to the greatness we were created for and are one step closer to bringing about the Kingdom of God.