Ministry plays an important role in the CDN experience. After all, we are discerning our call to a life that Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, identifies as “mobile ministerial.” Dominicans recognize that our mission to preach is accomplished not just by words but also by deeds—deeds of love that announce the Gospel.
Last semester, I worked with a young immigrant woman who needed to learn English. I was the teacher. On the surface, I was the one who possessed the “gift” that my student needed. I knew English, and she needed to learn English. Yet, I was reminded that everyone needs a chance to give. Each week, my student welcomed me with impeccable hospitality. At every lesson, she set out plates of food. One week, she took me to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Another time, upon learning that my birthday was approaching, she disappeared into her bedroom and returned with a small gift. I, the ostensible “minister,” tasted (yes, literally) the reality that ministry is a two-way street. We give and we receive.
The sixth Station of the Cross illustrates this two-way street. Tradition tells us that Jesus accepted Veronica’s effort to cleanse his face of blood and sweat on the way to Calvary. Afterwards, the imprint of his face remained on her cloth. As we minister, we meet the One who leaves his imprint on us. I pray that my work with this student has benefited her. I cannot know for sure. What I do know is that her imprint remains with me.
Recently, my student’s schedule changed, and it became impossible for us to continue our lessons. It was painful for me to step away from our relationship. We try to stay in touch. She will soon begin work with a new teacher. I hope to visit her in the spring.
Meanwhile, I am exploring another type of ministry: hospice. I will visit patients in nursing homes, hoping to bring God’s compassionate presence. I have long desired to accompany those who are journeying through loss or are facing end of life. I once heard Paula D’Arcy speak of the God who sits with us in our boats while we are battered by life’s storms. There is no quick fix for profound loss. But it can make a difference to have someone sit with us. Ministry of presence can mirror God’s love and fidelity.
I’ve made my first visit to my first patient. She sat still and silent the entire time. I told her about myself, the people and places I love, the dinner I was planning to cook. Tomorrow, I will read to her. I have no idea what she thought as I spoke to her, no idea if the books I’ve chosen from the library will entertain her or elude her. I don’t know if my presence will make an imprint, but I believe that my desire to accompany this patient is God’s desire, too. So I’ll try. I’ll sit in her boat. And I’ll let her leave her imprint on me.