Spiritual Reflections

Risking Kinship: A Peace and Justice Perspective

In sharing our IHM charism of God’s unconditional love, may we grow together into new understandings of what it means to authentically live the Gospel.

When we encounter the other, change begins. We learn names. We discover something about who they love and what they cherish. We can identify and remember them. They are no longer some indistinguishable face in a crowd. And when this happens, we are in danger of a shift of sorts. Because of our deepening encounters, we can no longer stay the same or remain in the same soul space we once inhabited. We are impelled to move to a place of deeper and wider relationship. 

I experienced this inner soul journey in 1993, when I represented our IHM Congregation on a human rights delegation to Haiti. At the time, Haiti’s democratically elected president had just been ousted by a military coup. Pax Christi USA invited US citizens to join a delegation to Haiti that was charged with one simple task: to collect and document stories of human rights abuses, bring those stories home, and publicize them to the rest of the world. I saw my role as an agent of change, ready to assist the poor and oppressed people of Haiti. 

Then I arrived in Port-au-Prince at the Hospice St. Joseph where we would be staying, and read a sign over the front door. That sign stopped me in my tracks. The words, attributed to an aboriginal person, read, “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 come, let us walk together.” 

In that moment, I did a spiritual about face. I had been placing so much emphasis on what I was doing for Haiti, on what a difference I would make. But I had completely missed the mutuality of it all. I had overlooked the truth that, yes, I would be of service by listening to stories of brave souls who had endured imprisonment, torture, exploitation, and silencing by a brutal regime. But I hadn’t considered that I myself would be converted by those stories. That I would be forever changed by the witness of people’s raw courage and deep faith. That I would form lasting bonds with those who risked their lives to come out of hiding and speak with us. 

This is what happens when we move from service to kinship. Relationships pull us in and demand our attention. They put a particular face and a specific name on reality. They move us to approach people not as generalities but with the intimacy of that face, this story, that flesh and blood person.

In this issue of Journey focused on sponsorship, you will read in detail about the meaningful sponsored and co-sponsored ministries of our IHM Congregation. These works invite others to join us in promoting and sustaining the mission of Jesus to people in need. The need may be the availability of quality education for those who are poor, or offering hope and services for individuals and families with special needs, or sharing spiritual outreach programs to address our shared hunger for God.

Underneath all of these connections, underneath all of these sponsored and co-sponsored ministries are relationships. They are about the work of justice, right relationship with God, self, and others. And the works of justice always invite us into a conversion of heart.

When Jean Donovan and Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel were martyred in El Salvador in 1980, Melinda Roper, then president of the Maryknoll Sisters, noted that it was the women’s solidarity with their poor neighbors, their own conversion of heart, that led to their deaths. They came to identify so deeply with the struggle of the Salvadoran people that they simply couldn’t abandon them. “The Church,” noted Roper, “is finding her mission in her life with the poor. She is learning to read the Gospel with new eyes. Now she understands that the reign of God really does belong to the poor, and that only they are able to tell us where it is.”1

Where is the reign of God? Within and around us. Often most visible in those who are most vulnerable. That is the gift our partners in mission and those we serve offer us. They invite us to risk entering a world that will stretch our familiar boundaries. To risk being challenged to see with new eyes. To risk having our comfortable world broken open and finding it no longer large enough to accommodate what our hearts once held. To risk greater spaciousness of heart.

As our worldview expands, our lens becomes more focused, more intimate, more specific in the way Thomas Merton described, “you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end…it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”2

In sharing our IHM charism of God’s unconditional love, may we grow together into new understandings of what it means to authentically live the Gospel. In promoting God’s dream of a world where all are welcome and none are excluded, may we grow together in Jesus’ redemptive mission to proclaim the Good News of God’s universal love and to recreate the face of the earth.3 May it be so! 

  1. Melinda Roper, MM, then president of the Maryknoll Sisters, Statement on the deaths of the four churchwomen, December 1980. ↩︎
  2. Thomas Merton’s letter to Jim Forest, published in The Catholic Worker and later published as Letters to A Young Activist. The letter is in the Thomas Merton Center Archives in Louisville. Forest notes that this is incarnational theology; that words and slogans and theories are not nearly as important as how we see and relate to each other—the relationships we build. ↩︎
  3. Mission Statement, Supplement to the Constitutions of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, Pennsylvania, S.2. ↩︎

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