I could categorize this experience so far in one word: gift. This has been and I suspect will continue to be an amazing gift.
My experience began right in the Baltimore airport being asked if I was headed to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Of course, it being Baltimore and all, I was taken aback. My confusion at how this stranger (another word for a friend I haven’t met yet) knew where I was headed dissipated when he said, “I saw your Lewis bag and was hoping you were headed there too!”
Suddenly I had a wonderful companion on the journey, from the Diocese of Joliet no less! We were able to chat about social justice, the joys and challenges in social justice focused ministry, and share our passion about advocacy to change unjust policies.
After checking in and getting settled, I was jumping right in with Advocacy Training 101, the dos and don’ts of meeting with Senators, Representatives, and their staff. It was incredibly helpful. When our delegation from Illinois meets with Tammy Duckworth (or her staff) on Tuesday, I now feel empowered to ask about the DACA postcard campaign from Lewis University and what hope/message she would like me to take back to Lewis University. Being reminded that I represent a larger community of constituents and am able to ask for information to share somehow reminded me that advocacy work always involves others and “the other” that can be forgotten.
Needless to say, the first toe in the water was practical!
Next up was the Keynote Presentation: Where is your brother? given by Most Reverend Eusebio L. Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle. I generally have a healthy skepticism of a bishop speaking with a title of a talk that is not gender neutral and this was no exception. Those fears were unrealized because he consistently talked about brothers and sisters and encounter. I felt like he was speaking to my heart throughout! He was incredible quotable and funny. Right out of the gate he shared what someone had once told him… There’s good news and bad. The good news is the messiah has already come. The bad news is it’s not you. Ha!! We ALL need that reminder, especially when our passion for our faith and justice consumes our energies and attention. It can be very easy to develop a savior complex. I needed this gentle (yet funny!) reminder of where I am in the grand scheme of things. Bishop Elizondo spoke of how it (this social justice) must come from the Holy Spirit, otherwise it is simply social work (and not JUSTICE!). He continued that we are called to encounter each person as a brother or sister. This is something I know and try to live out daily. The reminder resonated so strongly!
Bishop Elizondo spoke of the two most important days of our life: the day of our birth and the day we discover our vocation. Wow! That took a little while to sink in because our vocation is a call we must pursue. I could write an entire book about pursuing our vocation to holiness!
He had also begun with the opening of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights- among those Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Here are just a few nuggets of truth and wisdom from his keynote:
“This might be the day the Lord takes away my stupidity, I don’t want to miss it.”
“If we do not change the whole world, they will change us, and that is the real tragedy.”
“God put a limit to sin, and that is mercy,” (Pope Benedict XVI)
“We are called to be disciples, listening to God’s heart.”
“It is our mission and privilege to share.”
“God is an immigration of mercy.”
“Indifference is the greatest sin today.” (Pope Francis)
“Immigration is not a work, it is an encounter”
“If you say ‘They don’t look like me’… then your vision is distorted.”
“It’s our privilege to be the mirror of God’s image.”
And the final two summed everything up and spoke so powerfully to my heart:
“Jesus is not an idea, Jesus is the Word made flesh.”
“The more you love, the more you are obliged.”
Again, I could go on and on about these two, but I’ll just say this- as Christians we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Each person! We belong to each other and can’t forget it!
After this powerful keynote we had our opening liturgy. I did not take notes during the homily. I wanted to respect the liturgy and the sacred experience. The challenge is now I want to go back and reflect more on the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane’s inspiring words and I only have bits and pieces. Even those I’m not comfortable sharing in case they are misrepresenting anything he was saying. I will say this though- it was one of the most dynamic liturgies I’ve ever had the privilege of attending!!
You would think that at this point I was as inspired as I could be… WRONG! We then had dinner sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development where they gave out the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of Peoples Award. (Not that it’s important to this at all, but the food was amazing!) This award was given to Living Hope (http://lhwassociation.org/). If I could bottle inspiration, that evening would be an infinite inspiration of persistence, encouragement, and bravery.
My hope is that each day, each moment, I’m able to soak in the goodness that is present at each of these events!
Side note: it’s a small world after all… I met a friend of a friend and am overjoyed that my Augustinian brothers are here too!
Peace and all good!