The Vow of Service

She wept as she stood before me. She had just told me her daughter died and that she wanted to donate a meal at the soup kitchen in her honor.

“She never let being sick stop her. She’d be out in that dinning room smiling and greeting everyone, and they had loved her,” she told me.

I knew I was in no way prepared to receive her story or her sorrow. The best I could do was to stand with her and listen, and try to appear calm.

I think back on that experience now at the end of this semester’s class on the Spirituality of Care and gently hold the ways I had not accepted my own wounds which kept me from being present in service. Mary Jo explained in her presentation that we must first experience Christ in our own personal suffering so we can heal “in relation to Jesus’ love…then we [can] move into… compassionate suffering in ministry.”[1] I had not accepted the truth of my woundedness and therefore the truth of God’s healing love. So, it was not possible for me to accept their stories of deep woundedness. I feel called to deepen my practice of service so that I can be present in situations like this and bring Love into those moments.

For me, practicing service in a vowed context adds a unique dimension to my inner journey. One of my classmates touched on this when she shared that the words ‘truth’ and ‘troth’ come from the same root meaning a vow or a covenant based on truth and faith in the face of an unknown risk. When I made my first vows, I was fully aware that I was entering into an unknow risk, that I was giving “all of [my] unknown tomorrows”[2] to God, to Mercy, and to those I would serve. There is a mystery in answering God’s invitation into the unknown. However, taking a vow of service and being present to the suffering of others as if I were on Calvary with a crucified Jesus invites me into a truth of this spiritual journey. The truth that I cannot do it alone; this is not a story of only Jesus and me. An inner journey is usually only possible in the context of community where we find meaning, support, and faith. In this way our healing and wholeness is entirely tied up with others, and that we are not solitary saviors on lone missions. We must begin to serve, to be present to the other, and to befriend ourselves in the full knowledge that we are not alone.

Service brings Divine Love to other and to all creation. It is fundamentally about encountering God in and through the other. In these ministerial encounters we also see and come to know ourselves. We can practice letting go of our false self so we can grow into a praxis of risk that allows us to know ourselves as God knows us: beautiful and called, limited and transcendent, whole and beloved. Even though this path is marked with suffering and chaos we know that we are not alone on the way. Many travel with us, gifting us with experiences of Divine Love, and Christ, who is human and divine, “is [always] there with us in the muddle of our days.

[1] Mary Jo, Class Lecture, April 15th, 2021.

[2] Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM