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Owning My Ignorance

The intentional community on the steps of Casa San Salvador during their BBQ Blowout

I was taught at a young age to try to find rooms in which I was the dumbest person there. It was not an invitation to be lazy or to not take education seriously. Quite the opposite: I was told that if I surrounded myself with people smarter than I, then it was an opportunity to learn from the best. In theory I had taken this idea to heart, but in practice I had never experienced it.

During my educational career I was able to work with and learn from truly brilliant people, but I always felt that there was a good portion of my peers that were on the same level as me. In preparation for mission training I knew that I was a little behind in my Catholic education, evident from the secondary reading list FMS gave me, but I figured others would be in the same boat as me.

When I finally arrived in Washington, DC and started to get to know the people that I would be living and studying with for the next three months I found out I was way off in my assessment.

On one of the first nights I sat around the dinner table with a group of roommates getting to know each other better and found out that all three of them had just finished degrees in theology. It didn’t end there: Everyone that I met had lived in religious housing in college, spent summers on mission trips, or at the very least had been an altar server every Sunday growing up. I grew up as a member of the Catholic Church, but never spent much time studying the teaching of the church in a formal way.

When I realized that I was out my league I was absolutely terrified, but the more that I thought about it I saw it for the opportunity that it really is. Knowing and accepting that everyone else in a situation is much smarter than you are is a liberating feeling. I don’t feel any pressure to pretend that I know things that I don’t know, and I feel free to ask questions about things that I don’t understand.

For example, each of our morning prayer sessions use a different method of prayer. Sometimes they are forms of prayer that I have never experienced, like Eucharistic adoration. I had to have this explained to me because I wasn’t sure what I should be doing during that time in front of Christ present in the exposed consecrated host. My community members were happy to share with me, and I then felt comfortable when the time came to go to adoration.

This experience has shown me how a community can come together when someone is in need. For me living in community is about both giving and receiving in a way that makes everyone’s lives more complete. I hope that in the future when someone else needs help they feel comfortable to ask because of the way that others treated me.

From Southern California, Tom graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in crop science. He feels a deep connection to food and plans to work on agricultural development and food security while on mission. Tom served at Carmen Pampa University in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.