Courtesy of Claire Vouk

Midwest Diaconia: Living Our Vocation, Responding to Reality

We publish three witnesses from the United States Midwest Diaconia which took place in Chicago in December 2018.

In December 2018, the United States Midwest Region met in Chicago for three days with Fr. José Medina for their Regional Diaconia. Following are three attendees' experiences from the Diaconia, and what happened to them in the weeks following.

We were asked in light of the Beginning Day text what was happening in us personally and in our communities that was worth sharing. I was struck by Fr. José's reflections on the word vocation where he said, "To live our vocation is to respond to the provocation with reality." In my job as a second grade teacher, but also with the number of years of experience I've had as an educator, I'm finding myself being given more and more responsibilities at my school (chairperson of Catholic Identity team, mentor to a teacher in the building, working with a student teacher in the spring, being asked to revamp our school-wide discipline plan, etc.) and I feel very inadequate in front of how to respond to these things. I'd rather just close my door, teach my sweet second graders, build my Kingdom there, and then go home. But it seems like these invitations keep coming to me within my school.

I first see myself overrun by the fear that I don't have an adequate answer or response to give in front of these provocations. So, my first question was, "How do I overcome this fear?" The second was, "How do I recognize that these provocations and my capacity to respond are 'for me' and not just to impress others, or check it off my list, or do the moral thing, etc.?" I want to understand better how I'm in relationship with the Father in front of these things that tend to give me anxiety! I also said one thing I've always found to be helpful is to know I'm accompanied. My friendship with Marta (a mother at the school where I work, but also a member of my community) holds my hand in this dark room, as I sometimes need in order to see this reality.

After all of our contributions, Fr. José insisted that three questions a Christian needs to answer are:

1. How do we educate?
2. What is our contribution to our Church?
3. What is our contribution to the world?

He also invited us to use the written history we have of the Movement (specifically Fr. Giussani's biography, but also his talks and books) as a guide to our questions and experience. By reading these texts in community, we can start this work and journey and see where it takes us. In the weeks after the Diaconia, I've proposed reading Disarming Beauty (the chapters on education) with two friends who are mothers and my roommate who is also a teacher. My roommate exclaimed the other day after reading a chapter, "Every parent should have this! We could change the culture!" I'm excited to see where our work takes us as I'm looking wide-eyed and with certainty in front of this task to understand my vocation as "teacher.” I feel so grateful that God has chosen me for this task of educating and want to be more certain that He is within me in my daily interactions with my students and their families. I approach my job at times with trembling, but with a sincere desire to proclaim the Love I've found first.

Erica, Indiana

The months leading up to the Regional Diaconia were particularly difficult for me, both in my personal life and my work. I had struggled to see anything positive, and when I did, it quickly faded away. If it weren’t for our Fraternity Advent Retreat and the baptism of my goddaughter the weekend before, encounters carrying an undeniable announcement, I likely would have entered the Diaconia with no expectation. Instead, I arrived desperate to understand how to live the memory of that announcement, so that the small crack of light I saw entering the days that followed wouldn’t be lost. Fr. José began by quoting Fr. Giussani, saying that to live our vocation is to follow the provocation of reality. He went on to appeal directly to my experience: that in reality, I see that I want to live every moment as the memory of Him, which means the desire to be continuously invaded by this presence that brings an unforeseeable richness to life. He then urged us to make clear judgments: How can I organize my life, the circumstances I’m already living, to put myself in the best position to live the memory of Him? Am I using the time and space I’m given to invite His memory, or to maximize convenience and efficiency?

I would like to say that Fr. José’s provocation was enough to change everything about my life, but it wasn’t. Instead, little by little I see small changes taking shape in the way I use my time. I made sacrifices to go visit a friend who helps me when usually I would just say I couldn’t go, and I invited another member of our School of Community to come with me instead of going alone. I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with the people who keep the memory of Christ alive in me instead of finding the most exciting party or using the time to catch up on work. I started to spend more time helping with the New York Encounter again. I did these things because what Fr. José said is true: Whatever I’m doing is better when the criterion is the desire to be invaded by Christ’s presence. If I’m serious with myself, I want my life to be the best it can all the time. In the end, I still desperately need to grow. I had one moment of tenderness for my mom amidst a week of tension. My coworkers noticed I seemed different for a couple days, but the next day commented on how grumpy I was again. I went out of my way to visit a friend, then neglected a simple request and avoided him for days. It’s clear that I’m not spared anything, but something new is possible and is happening when I live with the simple desire that that unimaginable and unforeseeable richness happens again now.

Mark, Michigan

Months ago I said yes to a project for the upcoming New York Encounter that corresponded to my heart in the most surprising way. This project is connected to the exhibit titled, "The Kindness of Science," which highlights three doctors from three different countries who shared in one common passion during their lifetime--their service to science rooted in love. With only a paragraph length biography to read, I was instantly provoked by them. There had been an event in each of their lives that was uniquely connected to a singular event in my own.

The proposal for my involvement with this project provided enough information to make me aware of its challenges but not enough to suggest that this was something outside of my abilities. As time went on I became more aware of my limitations and inadequacies before it all. The challenges that I so eagerly embraced in the beginning soon became a cross I would carry down an all too familiar road of self-sustainment--which translates into, “Just work harder”.

By the time the Regional Diaconia came around I was deep into this project. My office walls and empty chairs were covered with images and information on these doctors. Anxiety was now greeting me at the door. Work hours moved into project hours without a break in between. The disorder of my office and my schedule had become outward signs of my interior crisis.

The grace of the Diaconia was--and continues to be--the experience of being exposed, and in that, deeply loved. Of all the topics discussed that weekend, I never would have imagined what Fr. José had prepared for Sunday’s final gathering. To help educate us on how faith becomes culture, Fr. José spoke about the necessity of making a judgement on life--All of life! “If we desire to live a particular way,” he said, “we must make a judgement on how we are living.” We were left to consider if the way we work, eat, use our phones, read the newspaper, relate to co-workers, etc., is helpful to our lives in keeping the memory of Christ with us. The minute he brought forth the topics of schedules and the spaces we keep, I knew I was exposed--or better yet, seen. Provoked by the reality that awaited me back in Sioux Falls, my only response was to sit back and smile.

This project has now become a conduit of sorts for God’s grace. The disorder of my schedule and office has not changed but in the midst of it all, my heart is being changed from an experience of Love that met me in Chicago and remains with me. I returned from the Diaconia with a greater desire for poverty of spirit and true to God’s goodness. He has been fulfilling that desire with the grace to risk on the gaze of Christ upon my life through the eyes of another.

Ellen, South Dakota