“On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Lib. 10, 26. 37-29, 40: CSEL 33, 255-256).
I-278, I-678, I-495: it was over stretches of the Bronx, Queens, and Long Island interstate highways that I saw memories of the Lord’s mercy to me throughout my time with Seton Teaching Fellows, Brilla Public Charter Schools, and now back with Seton Teaching Fellows as formation manager. I had the delight of accompanying my colleague on a site visit to a Catholic camp in Long Island where our NYC Seton Teaching Fellows attended a weekend discernment retreat in March. It was on our drive back to the Bronx that I realized what a gift it was to even be able to suffer with this mission.
This year of pandemonium has brought unprecedented challenges to our Cohort 7 of Seton Teaching Fellows. These challenges, or sufferings, are universally experienced throughout our country, but to the heart of a missionary, the faith demanded by the Lord to endure and even thrive in these bleak circumstances seems almost impossible. The hearts of our missionaries who seek to encounter Christ in their service are tested against the ever-present reality of human sin AND the uncertainty of the “new” normal. I reflect back on my own time as a Seton Teaching Fellow, and I can retroactively see the numerous ways in which the Holy Spirit still chose to reveal the Lord’s mercy to me, a novice teacher, a flawed community member, and a baby missionary. We passed CitiField, the home of the New York Mets, and I thought back to the first time I met other Seton and Brilla employees. I was so self-conscious about my image that I remember having a hard time enjoying the gift of a free baseball game as an opportunity to interact with my new colleagues. Thankfully, it was with the continued invitation of quality time from my merciful supervisors and colleagues that I was able to truly share my vulnerable self and face my insecurities of joining this new mision.
Next on our drive, we passed the New York Hall of Science, home to a brilliant science museum for children. This was one of my first field trips as a teacher with Brilla Veritas, when I was tasked with my own group of scholars to chaperone. I thought the exhaustion and intensity of responding with obedience to teach every day, to show up every day, would result in my own despair. Yet the Holy Spirit roared within me, and the well of affection for my scholars, my colleagues, and my own teaching practice never dried up. Tested, of course, but expired, no! The Lord’s mercy was faithful not only to me, but to my scholars as well. He would not abandon me because He would not abandon His little ones. At the science museum, I remember feeling like a maternal vessel of affection and wonder; my time with my scholars was truly a free gift from the Lord.
Lastly, crossing the RFK Bridge back into the city, I remembered my Uber ride during my Seton Teaching Fellows interview weekend in Astoria, where the candidates and I had dinner with the recruitment team. The view from the RFK Bridge is arguably one of the most beautiful views of the city. In some ways, I realized that it was an act of mercy from the Lord for me to see the almost “superficial” beauty of the city from afar first. Later, He revealed to me the very human, very beautiful, and very ordinary suffering that comes with missionary life occurring below, only when I had said my “yes.” With each “yes” during my missionary year, into my Brilla service, and throughout my service with formation, I believe I am seeing deeper into the heart of Christ on the cross. It is easy for the Lord to reveal natural consolations, just like it is easier to reveal the “good”parts of ourselves, but what a gift, what a treasure it is, to see the parts of Christ that are wounded and in need of our love.
Although this year has been particularly difficult, it seems that Christ in His mercy has decided to show the most wounded parts of Himself to be loved by Cohort 7. What a hope they are to me! What a sign of mercy they are to the world!