Verbum Dei is focused not only on the academic success of our students, but also with the creation of men who are with and for others, as the Jesuit motto states. This is another way of saying that we are working alongside God in the molding of authentic Disciples of Christ who place themselves alongside those who are marginalized, oppressed, and “othered.” Our Theology classes take part in this work by addressing various aspects of the human experience through classes on scripture, Christian ethics, vocations, social justice, and interreligious dialogue. Each class tries to help the students understand Christ’s life and works in light of their own context in order to help them learn how to respond to today’s issues as Christ would.
A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to expand our lessons beyond the classroom and onto the open road. During Holy Week, we took 18 students on our annual service immersion trip to Utah to work alongside the Dine(more commonly known as “Navajo”) people on the reservation. There we do manual labor that can range from constructing a Hogan(a traditional Dine home) to picking up large pieces of trash and everything in between. We never actually know what we will be asked to do but the students go in with open hearts and a desire to do whatever they are called upon. This year, they we asked to help continue building a Hogan, a task that apparently takes at least 1 year according to a local resident. For hours and hours the students and adults mixed water and mud and added it to the already existing structure trying to make the concoction stick to the Hogan. This all required lots of patience, energy, and the right frame of mind considering all were caked in mud by the end of the first hour. At times the students would also fall into mud puddles which made the work all the more uncomfortable.
At the end of that day, after hours and hours of work, it is safe to say that we barely made any progress . That is when we all found out that the work we were doing was started by a man who had suddenly past away the day before we arrived. The man’s sister thanked us for taking the time and care in continuing his work by building the Hogan.
Father Greg Boyle, SJ says that, “Kinship is not serving the other, but being one with the other.” While our service in building the Hogan could go unnoticed based on the progress we made, it was our presence alongside the family of the deceased man that is what God is calling us to.
We drove 14 hours to Utah, slept on floors, ate turkey sandwiches every day until the students couldn’t stand the sight of them, worked in the cold while caked in mud up to our knees, and barely saw any progress on the Hogan, but this is what we are called to do. Authentic discipleship is not about being comfortable or doing what is easy. It is about getting outside of our comfort zones, going to others who can be far from us, getting dirty, doing the work, and even when it looks like we’ve done nothing, trusting that our presence there is a small part of the vision God has for creation. Being an authentic disciple of Christ is about the growth and change that happens when we all reach out to each other, get a little dirty, take part in work that we will not see the end product of, and find ourselves changed by being with others.
As we find ourselves in the middle of our Easter season, remember, if you are too comfortable in your journey with Christ, do something different. Get out of your comfort zone and seek out opportunities to give more of your time, effort, money, and attention. It will be uncomfortable but only then will you know the joy of being a disciple of Christ. Who knows, you may even find the joy the students found in working alongside one another while caked in mud under the Utah skies.