May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you
I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By Molly Gradowski
In August of 2011, just two short months after graduating from John Carroll University, I left the material comforts and privileges of my life in the United States to volunteer with a program called Rostro de Cristo (Face of Christ) in Ecuador. Rostro de Cristo is a post-graduate volunteer program that challenges young volunteers to recognize the face of Christ while working and living among the poor. In the months following my return in August 2012, I was asked the infamous question from friends, family, and neighbors,
“How was your trip?”
This daunting question, whether I had 30 seconds or 30 minutes, was almost impossible to respond to. What do I tell them? I think. How do I adequately express to them that I have been transformed, heart and soul? Where do I even begin? The questions that race through my head were endless. Because in a way, I know that I will never be able to adequately portray to people how sharing my life with my neighbors who live in poverty has completely captivated me and changed me forever.
Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ captures this feeling for me when he talks about a time he spent working in Bolivia, saying
“I can’t explain how the poor in Bolivia evangelized me during that year of 1984-1985, but they turned me inside out, and from that moment forward I only wanted to walk with them.”
He goes on to explain why he continued to work with the poor by saying, “This was a wholly selfish decision on my part. I knew that the poor had some privileged delivery system for giving me access to the gospel. Naturally, I wanted to be around this.” While this statement may sound completely egoistic, I find it to be wonderfully honest. When I encountered the gospel in my Ecuadorian neighbors and accepted the invitation to walk with them, naturally, I found myself desiring to be around them.
Though talking about the “poor” in such objective terms becomes disingenuous to my Ecuadorian friends and neighbors. The “poor” and the “other” did not exist because the “poor” were my friends, my neighbors, my brothers, and my sisters. We were challenged to learn how to “be” with others rather than “do” for others. We were called to be witnesses and co-journeyers in the walk of life, through all its challenges and joys.
As volunteers, we challenged ourselves to be vulnerable and to share our deepest fears and greatest joys to connect with each other as human beings.
When reflecting and praying with the first and second readings from Sirach and Corinthians today, I am humbly reminded of my Ecuadorian neighbors’ spiritual strength and gratitude to God for all He has given them, materially and spiritually. Their ability to rejoice in Christ and sustain a ‘joy of heart’ even in the most frustrating and seemingly hopeless circumstances demonstrates their spiritual strength in Christ. I am grateful for my friends and neighbors in Ecuador because they have truly, as Fr. Greg says, evangelized me and given me access to the gospel in a way I had never seen before.
Thankfully, my friends and neighbors in Ecuador were just the beginning.
I still hold in my heart that they have served me spiritually in a way that I could never return, but they also challenged me and opened my eyes to search for Christ, not just in the dusty streets of our Ecuadorian neighborhood, but also in my everyday life thousands of miles away. As years went on past my volunteer year, my eyes were opened to many relationships and friendships in my life who serve as a bridge of faith, connecting me and bringing me even closer to Christ. So on this weekend of giving thanks, I give thanks to God for my friends and neighbors who have served as spiritual guides, mentors and inspirations, who ultimately bring me closer to Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly (Gradowski) Herrera is a 2011 graduate of John Carroll University and proud Blue Streak for life. After many years of living far from home in the wonderful city of Cleveland and the beautiful country of Ecuador, Molly returned to her hometown Bethesda, MD last Fall to begin working as a Youth Minister at a diverse and dynamic Catholic parish. Molly loves spending time watching and rooting for DC sports (#HTTR), community building while cooking for crowds at the Gradowski Inn, unintentionally laughing at her husband’s punny jokes, reading anything and everything about Ignatian Spirituality, and a good glass of red wine.