Editor’s note: Missioner SarahJane Cauzillo reflects on her ability to be present to those she serves in Cochabamba, Bolivia and the graces God has given her to do so.
“If you have come here to help me… you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
—Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian or Murri visual artist, activist and academic
I am inherently a problem-solver by nature. When I see an issue my mind immediately races to find a solution that I can implement. So, with that being my natural instinct, how am I working out the ministry of presence and accompaniment that FMS missioners profess, commit to, and try to live out? Well, the most honest answer is: I am being spoon-fed humility on a daily basis.
Almost a mere four months in, I have had a lot of my pride of knowledge stripped away. All of the understandings I held about myself, my capabilities, what I thought I was good at—gone. Everything I assumed about “ministry”—gone. The sum of what I thought I knew about witnessing pain, suffering, and helplessness—gone. I am being retaught just about everything—everything by teenage girls; and, by teenage girls I am supposed to “be serving.”
The truth is, I have nothing to offer. This is not self-deprecation, but rather an honest attempt at humble awareness of myself in this life. My Spanish is not nearly fluent enough to communicate deeply or easily. My four years in a university studying writing and international relations means next to nothing in this work. My 23 years of American life-skills or talents are rarely applicable to them. And most of all, I am not Bolivian; I do not fully understand the cultural contexts and challenges they have grown up in and constantly face.
I realize: I have nothing to offer them. But also, I realize I am not supposed to give them something, but simply be with them. And so, this is what I do. I can give my time, I can give my attention, I can give my love—even when, and especially when, it is really hard. I am not above them, reaching down to give them something they do not already have or cannot do themselves. They and I: we are equals. We are equally daughters of God—all struggling and broken in our own ways, but oh so equally in need of love, accompaniment, and sacrament.
In reading The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus by Dorothy Day, she refers to “The Sacrament of Presence.” I resonate with and find myself exploring this Sacrament. My Catholic Bible, in describing what Sacraments are, says: “In the Sacraments, Catholics encounter Jesus Christ in real and transforming ways”—true—and, in the Sacraments, “Christ is truly present effecting the work of salvation which he began two thousand years ago. By God’s marvelous power, very ordinary elements become the visible signs of God’s presence and activity in the world.”
In choosing to simply accompany the girls at Nuestra Casa, rather than trying to “serve them,” or “help them,” or “do something for them,” I find myself able to just be. To focus on them, to focus on ways we can connect. And, in this holy and sacred space, on this holy and sacred ground, I know Christ is present with us. In our mutual wounds we share with one another, we feel the suffering of Christ. And, in our mutual laughter and joy we share with one another, the Holy Spirit’s song is pulsing through us. Through God’s marvelous power, our ordinary afternoon doing homework, talking about teenage-girl-things, cooking dinner, and dancing are all visible signs of God’s presence and activity in the world. We share love, and Christ presents Himself, as He does in every Sacrament. In this simple act of Presence, He continues His work of salvation.
I am so privileged and so grateful for this Sacrament of Presence that God is continually teaching me to engage in and that He is continually showing me, through the girls, how to live out. So I give prayers of thanksgiving to an abundantly generous Father! I ask Him to continue helping me accept the spoonfuls of humility as I learn more; to help me love in ways that are just; to help me be present in every moment; and, to relish in the Sacrament of Presence.
Reflection question: How is God calling you to be more present to those around you?