By Rowena Owen (Cohort 7)
I did not expect to be here. In this city, in this mission. And when I did say yes, it was when the threat of COVID in the States was little more than a rumor. Despite the changes that COVID has brought, I am very grateful to be here now with these children, parents, staff, housemates, and larger community. Yes, COVID has been a time of darkness, but in this year of mission I have witnessed so much joy and resilience in our children that my sense of hope has been sustained.
As we’ are in the liturgical season of Lent, it feels fitting to reflect upon this mission of serving as a Seton Teaching Fellow through the lens of this season.
Lent is the season of purgation from our worldly distractions, a time where we die to self in order to make room for Christ in our lives. Cliché as it sounds, so much of Lenten and Easter imagery is in nature. Regrowth. Small tendrils of plants pushing against cold earth toward the light. Bare trees bringing forth buds which open, and all that was cold and bare sheds the darkness and springs as if back to life. I grew up on a farm in Oregon and relate to this imagery because I was enveloped in nature. Here in the city there are more buildings than trees. Asphalt, not soft dirt, is the norm. There are some parks in which these analogies can still hold true, but overall one does not see meadows lush with new grass or rolling hills and budding forests.
New York City might have more skyscrapers than trees, but the human heart is the same everywhere. Instead of reflecting on the change in nature from death to life, one can look to the people. It has been a challenging year, full of pain and fear, and has wrent the fabric of what was everyday life. The children in particular have suffered in a unique way. Having to stay indoors, not seeing the full expression on adult faces, not being able to have playdates and share with friends, and at times being glued to electronics, trying to learn fundamentals before their next grade. Yet, in spite of all that, there is hope and they have joy. The hope of Easter, like a seed growing up from the dark earth, is in them.
Everyday my children are full of joy, wonder, curiosity, creativity, and resilience. In spite of regulations—not being able to touch and run and hug each other—they have continued to wonder, use their imaginations and share friendships and laughter. And through El Camino, they can discover Christ. Caryll Houselander, an author I first read through our formation book club, said in her work The Reed of God, “We must not try and force Christ’s growth in us, but with a deep gratitude for the light burning secretly in our darkness, we must fold our concentrated love on Him like earth, surrounding, holding, nourishing the seed.” Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the truth of this as I witness my children nurturing their love of Christ through simple, everyday acts of love. Even something as simple as giving up the prized role of line leader to their classmate who might be having a hard day makes my heart swell with pride.
I have sometimes been tempted to lose sight of the mission aspect and get drawn into the cares of everyday. The full days, lesson internalizations, meetings, or other practical concerns. It is hard to be right next to a church and, due to COVID, not be able to receive the sacrament of the Mass except on the weekends. Being in the world can mean, at times, the supernatural or providence of God feels stifled. But Lent is a time to reflect and remind myself why I am here. It all comes back to serving Christ by serving others. In a way this year of mission is its own Lent and Easter. I want to share the truth, beauty, goodness, comfort, and strength I had been given through faith. I have heard it said that being a Fellow is like planting seeds. We are only here a year. The fruits of our labor we may not see, but the seeds are surely being planted and, with God’s grace, being watered. If I could wish my disciples to remember anything that I have taught them of the virtues, heroic stories of the saints, and theology and doctrine, it would be that they are undeniably loved by Christ and his Church.
Rowena Owen graduated from Christendom College in 2020 with a major in History. She is a humble witness to the faith and brings Christ’s love to her students and community members through her gentle care.