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a jesuit’s thoughts on the jv journey

Many thanks to Brendan Busse, SJ for joining us at “A Celebration of Service” a couple weeks ago. For those who missed his homily, or wanted to read his thoughtful reflections again, we offer them below:

JVC Northwest Brunch Homily — Seattle University, April 21, 2013

by Brendan Busse, S.J.

They did it together. As we hear in the first reading today, Paul and Barnabas ‘continued on’…traveling and teaching…shaking the dust from their feet as they went. Some heard them and were filled with joy. Others heard and were filled with fear or doubt…even anger and hate…but in any case they ‘continued on’…and they did so together.

In our second reading we hear from John…a vision of ‘a great multitude, which no one could count…from every nation, race, people, and tongue.’ They stood there together. They stood in white robes–you’ve heard of the eternal banquet…this is like the eternal day spa…in white robes with a coffee mug and palm branch…they stood before the Lord. Who were they? This comfortably dressed crowd? These were the ones who had survived the time of great distress. We might even say…they were the ruined. These were the ones ruined for eternal life! But, in any case, they stood there together.

And, we hear, the one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore…nor will the sun or any heat strike them…the Lamb will shepherd them…lead them to springs of life-giving water…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. They gathered around the throne…as we gather around this table…they did so together.

And finally, in the gospel, Jesus reminds us…that the flock hears his voice…and no one can take them out of his hand. For God has given them to him…and no one can take them from God’s hand because, as Jesus says, “God and I are one.”

God and I are one. They did it together.

There was at one time a JV community in Dangriga, Belize…and above the door inside of that little green house was a small hand-drawn sign that greeted you every time you left with a simple wisdom: “Stick Together…and Keep God in Front.”

It greeted you as you left the house. I said that on purpose…and this is why. I think that being a JV is essentially an experience of pilgrimage. And it is the nature of pilgrimage that we set out to find welcome…we set out in order to let something in.

If there is any Ignatian spirit in the life of Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest it is that spirit of pilgrim mysticism. It is in the JV-way of setting out to welcome in. It is an experience of God expressed initially in the outward movement of the pilgrim, the missionary, or the servant, but fulfilled, ultimately, in the inner experience of the mystic. We set out to change the world and we find ourselves transformed. We set out to turn in. And what did we turn into? Pilgrim mystics…ruined for life…and we did so together.

Stick together…Keep God in front.

Thinking back now on my own JV experience…many of my community mates are now in the process of making or deepening life-long commitments. Marriage, children, careers. I’m quite unexpectedly in my fifth year as a Jesuit. I often wonder…in such diverse company as this…What do we share? An experience of pilgrimage…an outward journey that became tied to an inward truth…something we did had an effect on who we’ve become. We stand together…pilgrims, mystics…ruined for life.

In any true act of service we have to be willing to lose ourselves (the habit of both pilgrims and mystics!), to step beyond ourselves in service of the other. In genuine acts of service and true generosity we realize that it is not something that we do but a relationship that we enter into with the other and with God. Service and generosity…if they have anything to do with love…must be mutually transformative.

This is why it makes sense for us to treat these experiences with reverence, to proceed with the trust and humility of the pilgrim and the receptivity and awareness of the mystic. Because what we are doing as Jesuit Volunteers directly affects who we are becoming.

In pilgrimage the outward journey (the mission) is paired with the inward reality (the mystical) by our posture of reverence. Open to the unknown, putting one foot in front of the other…letting God walk with us…letting Love transform us–we set out to let someone else in–into our lives and into our hearts. The outward journey becomes a mystical union deep inside of us…and like Ignatius and his first friends…whose love was ‘active and mutual’ what a privileged experience we have had…what a great gift this is!

I am so grateful for my time as a JV and for the relationships it gave me…but I’m most grateful for the way in which it was truly a school of life and of love. I am certainly not alone this morning in my gratitude.

For any current or potential JV’s here today: I can’t pretend to know what your experience is or how you should proceed…only this advice: enjoy it…treat the experience, the people you meet, your community, and your very self with the care and reverence they deserve. I simply hope you love it! With your attention, reverence, and devotion…I encourage you to love it…I give you permission to love it.

There is so much alienation in the world rooted in the inability of the other to satisfy our needs and expectations…we do so much to correct that…so much activity to ‘save’ the world, ourselves, and those we love. But in the doing we can miss the grace of being more and more receptive…more and more accepting of the person we were made to be…we can miss the gift of becoming…more communal, more faithful, more simple and more just.

This is why we gather here today in Eucharist…in thanksgiving, in petition, and in praise…because we’re seeking transformation…to become something more. This is the vocation of pilgrim mystics…this is the radically transformative power of love…it is not something to be done but a relationship to be lived. As a spiritual director of mine once said: “We must become love loving.”

And we must do it together.

If we can stick together…if we can keep God in front…then as Luke explained in our first reading then the disciples will be “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” We will set out and find ourselves welcomed in…as Jesus says…because God and I are One. Like the flock around the shepherd, like the family around the table, like the worshipers around the altar…we will find ourselves in community and spirituality, in simplicity and justice.

When we stick together and keep God in front then we will find ourselves in love.

As pilgrims and mystics…we may lose ourselves in service…but we will find ourselves in love

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