I only have a little bit over a week left of my Short Experiment at L’Arche Belfast. I’d like to start by saying how grateful to God I am for all of the experiences that I’ve had here. He certainly has stretched me and has given me the grace of a magnanimous heart. Looking back upon my time here, I’m struck to see how the Lord was constantly at work in my life, how I saw Him through particular people whom I met and the conversations that I had. I would say that this rings true especially for the staff and volunteers that I was privileged to meet and know. From the openness and vulnerability that they expressed through the conversations about their respective histories, struggles, and aspirations, I was filled with much consolation. In retrospect, as I reflect on these encounters, I see myself as both blessed and privileged to have been invited to take part in their journeys. I have the feeling that I’ll regularly look back upon my time here at L’Arche and realize how much the Lord worked in my life, how much He wanted me to soak in every moment and to respond to His promptings to the best of my ability. From working alongside the volunteers and staff, I’ve realized that my mission of leading people closer to Jesus has not been in vain.
At times I felt that my attempts of having spiritual conversations with people were futile because many were indifferent, uninterested in spirituality. I would bring my concerns to my prayer, and it was only after some weeks that it dawned on me that I have to follow St. Ignatius of Loyola’s advice of going through their door and coming out my own. Learning this lesson has proven to be invaluable and a real test for me as I have begun to understand better how to detect God’s grace in every single encounter that I have had with someone. And this apprenticeship of learning how to be what one Jesuit called a “detective of grace” has taught me to accept my own limitations and to work on changing certain thinking patterns that I have which prove to be unhelpful. I’m grateful to God for all of my formation and the care given to me to make me both more effective and affective as a Jesuit. I certainly think that my time at L’Arche Belfast has been a good testing ground for me to try to live out the Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus, particularly the part of the Formula that speaks about the “propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine”. I think of the spiritual conversations, sharing the teachings of the Church with those who are interested, trying to listen well to people who carry burdens and concerns, and praying over the Scriptures with the faithful.
Through my work with the “core members”, I’ve learned how to communicate on a different level from what I’m used to. From my previous intellectual formation at university, I was taught how to communicate by making coherent arguments, using reason, and expressing myself concisely. Being at L’Arche transformed my previous modus operandi in terms of communicating. In an experiential way, I learned that my former way of communicating ideas in a seminar room was not the best way to proceed with everyone. Sometimes the truth cannot be expressed with words but rather with deeds. A friend of mine recently sent me a book titled The Return of The Prodigal Son by Henry J.M. Nouwen, and I read something from his experience of being at L’Arche in Canada, which struck and resonated with me:
“I had never before given much attention to people with a mental handicap. Much to the contrary, I had focused increasingly on university students and their problems. I learned how to give lectures and write books, how to explain things systematically, how to make titles and subtitles, how to argue and how to analyze. So I had little ideas as to how to communicate with men and women who hardly speak and, if they do speak, are not interested in logical arguments or well-reasoned opinions. I knew even less about announcing the Gospel of Jesus to people who listened more with their hearts than with their minds and who were far more sensitive to what I lived than to what I said.”
Reading these words touched me, and I immediately found consolation in them. I was happy to know that others have also had a similar experience to me. God was able to work in Nouwen’s life in a profound way, so He can also work in mine, if I only allow Him. As my final days of being in Belfast come to an end, I remain open to the Holy Spirit in every moment. I’m excited for God to reveal Himself more and more to me. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola from the Suscipe, I too dare to say: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own.”