A Sense of Mission

by Gilles Côté

          During every mass when the gifts are brought up we are invited to offer our own lives, our weaknesses as well as our strengths, to God. By this symbolic action we are asking God to transform us into the body of Christ, to make us more like him. To be more like Jesus is to be more of a servant. The Eucharist should therefore help us become God's servants, ready to do his will. Like Jesus we are to be open to the needs of others. We are to be a sign of hope for them. We are to be peacemakers and healers in a broken and wounded world. When we are dismissed from the mass it should be with a sense of mission, to go and be Jesus for others.

          Even though my school is not a parish, it is the community I am most deeply involved with. I will therefore reflect on how we as a school community have responded to the call to undertake mission. In 1990, I became involved as volunteer pastoral worker in a residence that was mostly for elderly people who needed ongoing care. I was asked to visit residents in one of the wings. There were about 75 residents in that wing. I did this for about two years. I realized that there were never enough hours in a week to listen to the people I visited. They would speak to me at length about their lives, their families, their frustrations. I recognized that all they needed was someone to listen to them. At the end of their life journey they needed to tell their story, mainly to unravel its meaning for themselves. I was happy to be there for them. At the same time though I could see that I could never visit more than a handful of them each week. I did not have enough ears to go around. In 1991 I decided to involve some of my students (my grade 8 students). We went to the residence on a regular basis throughout the year. The students were paired up with a resident. They provided the ears (and much more) that I could not provide alone. It worked so well that I repeated the experience every year until 1996.

          I live near an orchard with apples, pears, cherries all around. Every year we get to pick more than enough for ourselves. I therefore started bringing some of the surplus to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. I became aware of the fact that what I brought was hardly making a dent in meeting the need. It was gone as soon as I brought it. I mentioned to someone that if we had land, our students could grow food for those who were in need in our community. Last May, someone who had land near our school offered it to us to grow food for the Food Bank. By the end of the summer, with the help of about 30 students (our total school population was 190 at the time) to plant, weed and harvest, we had produced over 2400 pounds of fresh produce. We have planted a garden again this year. We try to promote a sense of service in our students in many other ways. I must say that we often must fight against a current of "What is there in it for me?" I suspect that if there are even a few people in a parish who become enough aware of the needs of others in the community, and if they are open to doing something about it, compassion will propel them into being creative about how to go about meeting those needs.

         PS: The fourth annual garden was planted and harvested in 1999. The school is Immaculata Regional High School in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

©Gilles Côté, 2001

 
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