Well, it’s happened. I knew that it would, sooner or later: I missed the chance to attend a funeral back home, because I am here as a novice at the CDN. The funeral was for a loved one of someone to whom I feel deeply connected through a ministry we shared for many years. The grief of my bereaved friend is important to me, and I wanted to be there with her.
How to reconcile my distress? My bereaved friend is compassionate, supportive, faith filled, prayerful. She isn’t giving a thought to my absence at the wake and the funeral. But I sure am! I’m also thinking about the Thanksgiving break that I can’t spend this year as I usually would, with my cousin who has special needs. Long story. To summarize: She will most likely stay at her group home on Thanksgiving this year because I won’t be home to have her visit. I ask, “God, is this really what you’re calling me to? Are you really asking me to step away from the needs of people I love?”
In 1217, Dominic told his fledgling group of 16 friars that it was time to disperse and take the preaching on the road, from Toulouse to Paris, Spain, Rome. At first, the friars did not assent. They protested that they were too new, too few. Dominic insisted, “We must scatter the seed, not hoard it.” The friars’ seed was the Good News. Their mission: the holy preaching. What is my mission? Do I, a novice of 12 weeks, have seed to scatter? Is preaching the essence of my mission in St Louis? In some ways, yes: I will preach at morning and evening prayer this week, and I have been studying and practicing preaching all semester in my Foundations of Preaching class. But as all Dominicans know, preaching happens beyond the encounter where we formally break open the Word.
It happens when I visit my immigrant student, Nadia* for our weekly ESL tutoring sessions. I show up at her home faithfully each week in the hope that we can cover some ground in her grammar and vocabulary skills. Is her English improving? I hope so. I’m not sure yet. Am I preaching? My faithful visits are grounded in veritas, a truth that I hope I am speaking to her soul: Nadia matters…to me and to God, even if she calls God by another name. We are beloved children of this same God. She welcomes me warmly each week. We talk about family back home (hers in her home country, mine in New Jersey). She shows me photos of her daughter, her parents, her siblings. I show her pictures of my nephews, other members of my family. We sometimes struggle to understand each other. But we persist. So, is this preaching? Yes! During our lessons, often at a moment when I least expect it, she disappears into the kitchen. She returns with plates heaping with fruit, nuts, whatever she can offer. This newcomer to my country wants me, a newcomer to her home, to feel welcome.
I do, and I feel humbled, too. The seed that she has, she scatters. The seed that I have, I scatter.
And this journey of mine—the one that keeps me from funerals and family needs back home—is this a preaching? I daresay yes. I yearn for the familiar blessings of home and for the relationships that wait there. But I have stepped away from them for now, trusting that cooperation with grace begets more grace. I hope, too, that my choice to be here is a witness. Such is my preaching, my own way of scattering seed. I still wish I could console my grieving friend in person, and I wish I could head to my relative’s group home on Thanksgiving morning.* These are not frivolous tasks. They are works of mercy.
But these works are not for me to perform, at least not for now. I have other seed to scatter.
*I am grateful to note that my family was able to include my relative in their Thanksgiving plans.
Sister Gina Scaringella is a novice with the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, NJ. She is spending her canonical novitiate year at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis. Her ministries have included RCIA, Children's Liturgy of the Word, retreat ministry, secondary and higher education, and ESL tutoring. She received her undergraduate degree in Italian from Georgetown University and her master's degree, also in Italian, from Rutgers University.