I have very distinct memories from visiting and volunteering in some of the poorest areas of the United States, Central & South America, and two African nations. As a young adult, years before entering the seminary, I had my first volunteer home repair assignment in the poverty-stricken region of the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. There, I assisted in installing indoor plumbing for a family who still used an outhouse. I just couldn’t imagine that in the 1990’s we still had families using outhouses… in the United States!
My later visits to Peru as a seminarian and as a priest brought me to encounter numerous faith-filled people, yet many of them had so little and lived in growing shanty towns, where housing was often made of mere cardboard or metal scraps, and where literally tens of thousands of people crowded into the most unimaginably arid mountainsides.
Time and time again my struggle to understand such conditions stood up against the Gospel, against the WORD of GOD. Even in today’s Sunday Mass readings, I have to sit to ponder what the LORD is speaking to me. Where is He calling me out of my comfort zone, out of my self-satisfaction and self-centeredness to be generous, to, as Mother Teresa put it, ‘live simply, so others may simply live?’
Do you know the phrase, vanity of vanities? (Ecclesiastes 1:2) When I first heard these words, I naturally thought of the sins of pride and arrogance; yet I did not understand the deeper meaning of the word and verse. The fact that the pursuit of earthly acquisitions and pleasures was fleeting, like smoke or fumes, was lost on me. For all my worldliness, what did I have to show the LORD? Nothing.
Today, St. Paul challenges us to: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly,” (Colossians 3:5) so that we might be set apart, free from the pursuit of passing things in order to seek those things that endure; lest we hear the direct words of Jesus, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?“ (Luke 12:20)
Christ is whispering into our human hearts, calling us to greater conversion in order to experience the highest good: “the knowledge and love of GOD.” (Ephesians 3:19) From this open space in the human heart, Christ seeks to direct our thought, word and deed, so that we may truly ‘love our neighbor.’ This deeper love defines Christian disciples and begins to break the true barriers and inequalities between us and among all humanity. This is no small feat but it is so necessary in order to begin to see the peace that only God can give to us.
The psalmist speaks to us today: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”(Psalm 90) Therefore, we might ask ourselves, “Where has our heart hardened against another? Towards whom must we become lowly and humble and ask for forgiveness? Is there a fear of giving away what we have to which we say, “I won’t have enough” or “I’ve worked hard for this?”
The Body of Christ is much in need of re-building and the world desperately needs the mercy of Christ in order to reconcile the great gaps between peoples and nations. Little Christina Dangond reminded us so clearly how to re-build the Church and build the faith ‑‑ one soul at a time — when she prayed: “JESUS, I Trust in YOU.” These words were so precious and often on her lips with never a concern for herself, always placing the needs of others before her own. Christina did not let material things come between her and others, often giving away her favorite things; and, she was always offering up her greatest gift of suffering, a far greater and richer gift than the things of this world.
Let us ask for little Christina’s intercessions so that we, too, might help build the faith by re‑building our relationships and the world around us by simply saying, and then living fully, the phrase: “JESUS, I Trust in You!”
Fr. Ed was ordained to the priesthood in May 2000 for the Archdiocese of Boston. He held three different parish assignments in the Archdiocese from 2000-2010 before his appointment to the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, where he was Dean of Men and Director of Pastoral Formation from 2010-2022. Fr. Ed is currently the Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in Waltham, MA and Spiritual Director & Liaison for the Office for Homeschooling of the Archdiocese of Boston. He is the Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima in the Archdiocese and a perpetually professed member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest of the Pauline Family.