by Brother Luis Ramos
“What a small world!” As it becomes easier to connect with people across borders and seas, the world somehow remains small. We happen upon small connections between ourselves and those around us, even people we didn’t imagine being connected to.
These connections can spark up new relationships in our lives. There is an energy about finding something in common with the other. In an age where we have more access to information than ever before, however, I think we sometimes find it hard to connect with some of the tough realities around us. As small as the world is, we can be very disconnected from one another.
Pope Francis has spoken quite extensively on the need to reach out to people on the margins of society. Children and families affected by violence or lack of resources. People who are working through various forms of mental illness. Folks who feel lost or isolated, with little or no support systems to help them find their way. The margins are not just margins where we are called to offer material support, but relational/spiritual support as well.
We may meet the child who walks home alone from school and find that they are hungry. We might notice the student who is consistently alone on campus. Perhaps we notice the individual who puts up walls to hide their hurt. Our small world can become smaller if we don’t see past the “normal”.
These experiences may not always be our own, and they are not easy to understand. How do we respond? How can we learn some more about these neighbors of ours? Through compassion and empathy. Compassion (concern for one’s suffering and acting because of it) and empathy (understanding someone else’s feelings) are essential in our Christian life. In the Gospel we consistently see Jesus enter into the experience of another person and intervening on their behalf.
It is a humbling and revelatory experience to notice someone, to experience them, and to be present to their reality. To their pain, suffering, joy, hopes, dreams. To their needs.
As Jesus is teaching in Matthew 25, we hear the response of the people “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
Could we imagine in our day “When did we see you... and not try to understand you? Not try to see your need? Turn our faces from you?” It is important to keep an open eye out not just for those we normally would like to help, but those we never thought of helping. It is not enough to notice the need. We’ve got to meet the need. Compassion and empathy may not be the easiest or most comfortable virtues to practice, but they bridge the gaps in a world that, although small, remains unconnected.
The challenge is this: to be aware. To not risk moving so quickly that we do not see. To risk our own comfort for the sake of someone else’s. To build bridges where no one has built bridges before. As with all things, it takes time. And that may be the most precious resource we can offer those on the margins.
Autumn is here in all its glory! The air is cold and our Northeastern forests, hills, and mountains are on fire with color. Deep reds, oranges, and yellows cover the horizon on the highway. It’s almost time for another semester to come to a quick close, much sooner than we think. Our jobs get busier, and the Holiday rush closes in on the heels of Thanksgiving. Just a little bit busier than you’d like? Are you losing it?
So are those forests, hills, and mountains. They lay down their leaves, baring themselves until springtime. See, they’re not dead when the leaves fall down. They’re just opening up to the reality of what is happening around them. The season is changing, and so are they. Come springtime, they’ll be green and vibrant as ever! Offering what they can via air, flowers, shade, fruit, and a spot for a swing or hammock.
Autumn might be the perfect time to stop a moment and ask “What can I lay down? Can I take a look at the real me? And when I lay it down, what will grow in my springtime?” It takes time, it takes honesty, and most importantly, it takes relationship.
None of us can survive on our own, and it would be silly to think we could. Just like trees are one part of the larger ecosystem, we each come from a wider family, community, and society. As their leaves feed the earth, whatever we lay down can be a blessing to someone else.
God is calling us to wake up in Autumn to that which we can leave behind. In Ecclesiastes 3 we read about a “time” for so many things. For the cycle of life to be lived with the richness of different emotions, experiences, relationships, work, and worship.
We hear the call to give thanks and enjoy all of this, as hard as it is sometimes. In the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering, there is something common to each one of us. Our humanity. Our blessed creation in God’s image, and our struggle to live in a world that is hurting.
As we follow the example of the trees, let’s not forget to go easy on ourselves. The call is to change, not to beat ourselves up. When we lay something down and offer it to God, this gives us space and energy to focus on that which excites us and gives us life! To enter into that springtime, we have to have fall and winter first. And those seasons are necessary… so don’t try and skip them. They contain just as much beauty as the springtime we wait for.
What will you lay down? What does God see? What do you see?
This blog is a letter written to the Marist family chronicling the past month's experience. It is for everyone! TIP: Use the button at the top right of the document to expand it! If it doesn't work, click here.
Guests are always very important to me. It’s important to be attentive to your guests and make sure they are well taken care of. Hospitality is something that I find to be a key part of our Christian and Marist life. I think that hospitality is one of the ways that Marist family spirit comes alive for many people.
Being a guest, and a guest for a long time, is a very different experience. You become the guest who is attended to and looked after. My time here in Medellín is long. I’ve been here since September 3rd and will return at the end of October. So I am not just a guest. I live here and I’m a part of the community. The first couple weeks that I was here, however, I really felt a welcome and care that was and still is very touching.
Attention and care for a guest is called hospitality in English. In Spanish, the word is “hospitalidad”. As I got used to the schedule, or remembered that I needed something that I hadn’t brought with me, a brother would immediately help me. Different brothers would also ask me “Did you understand all that?” or “How are you feeling after a week?” In chapel, someone would always make sure I had the translation of any prayer we were saying, so that I could participate. This reception and care was warm and fraternal. It was what we in Spanish would call “cariño”. This means particular or special attention, and usually warm and loving.
When you start a new leg of your journey or transition into a new space, those moments of contact are so important. It becomes easy to put these moments to the side in favor of what makes you most comfortable in the moment, or isolating yourself. In the past month and a half I entered the novitiate, moved into a new home, and I’m in Colombia. I’d say transitions abound in my life!
Thankfully, I have really felt the presence of Jesus saying to me “You’re fine. Take it one step at a time. Don’t forget to be here for the experience.” Each meal, each prayer, each adventure into town is a very real reminder that we can experience God in community and in our relationships. Cleaning up, cooking, sports, or TV are all spaces of encounter. Each time I get to connect with friends and family back home via phone or messaging, I also feel that care and support.
To receive that is a gift. Offering that hospitality, that “cariño” to someone else, is also a gift. How can we invite others into our lives? How can we better show care and support? Who is Jesus calling me to care for?
Yo creo que los invitados a una casa son muy importantes. Cuando hay invitados, es importante ser atento a las necesidades que tienen para hacerlos sentir como en casa. Hospitalidad es una parte clave de la vida Cristiana y la vida Marista. Yo creo que en esto, podemos ver al espíritu de familia que practicamos.
Siendo un invitado, y un invitado por mucho tiempo, es algo diferente. La comunidad te da mucha atención y una acogida muy fraterno. Mi tiempo aquí en Medellín is largo. Por este tiempo, vivo aquí y soy parte de la comunidad. Las primeras semanas que estuve aqui, los hermanos me recibieron con una acogida muy linda.
En inglés usamos la palabra hospitalidad para hablar de la acogida que se da a un invitado. Cuando estuve acostumbrandome al horario, o cuando yo necesitaba algo, un hermano siempre me ayudaba inmediatamente. Diferentes hermanos me preguntaban “¿Entendiste eso?” o “¿Como te sientes después de una semana?” En la capilla, siempre me daban las traducciones de las oraciones, para que yo pudiera participar. La acogida fue especialmente fraterno. Eso lo llamamos en espanol “cariño”. Cariño es distinto a hospitalidad. Cariño implica un amor, un sencillez, y una conexión.
Cuando está en medio de una transición, estos momentos de contacto son importantes. Puede ser fácil ignorar estos momentos en favor de algo que te hace sentir más cómodo. Es fácil aislarse, pero eso no ayuda. En el mes y medio pasado yo entré al noviciado, me mudé a una nueva comunidad, y ahora estoy en Colombia por casi un mes y medio. ¡Las transiciones son abundante en mi vida!
Yo he sentido la presencia de Jesús diciendo “Estas bien. Haz todo paso a paso. No te olvides de ser presente durante la experiencia.” Los momentos de compartir en torno a la mesa, las oraciones, y las aventuras en Medellín son recuerdos que Dios está presente en la comunidad. Limpiando, cocinando, jugando baloncesto, o viendo televisión… todos son espacios de encuentro. Yo siento este encuentro también cuando me comunico con familia y amigos de mi país
El recibir cariño es un regalo. Ofreciendo cariño a otros también puede ser un regalo. ¿Cómo podemos invitar a otros a compartir en nuestras vidas? ¿Cómo podemos mejorar nuestro capacidad de dar apoyo? ¿Quienes son los que Jesús me llama a dar cariño?
Welcome is something that people experience in a lot of different ways. Someone might invite you over for dinner. They might strike up a conversation on the first day back to work. Maybe a door was held for you. The simplest gestures can be welcoming.
To receive welcome is a gift. To be welcoming is even more important.
In the past year I have experienced both sides is this wonderful gift. Beginning with my entrance into the postulancy (period of discernment and formation living in a religious community) and continuing into my novitiate experience (further period of discernment and study of religious life and religious vowed commitment).
What kept coming up for me during the year was “Something more…”. That is what was being asked of me, and still is being asked of me. That something more wasn’t entering a religious institute. I think that is the vehicle God is using to lead me toward the “something more”!
The past year has helped me understand myself much more deeply, as well as what it means to be a disciple. I also enjoyed time to study prayer and practice it in different ways. To characterize the year I would call it a year of learning to welcome Christ into my life. Does that sound odd? Christ continually calls us through people, situations, and asks us to join him in his work. In relationship with him, don’t we need to be well disposed and welcome him too?
I write this very short post to introduce you to what this online space is for. Our hope is that this blog and website will be a way to share what our Marist community experiences in the coming years. To share what the “something more” might be, and continue to discover that. Welcome!