During this World Mission Month of October with its theme rom Isaiah - "Here I am, send me!" - I started to reflect about my own faith calling. Everyone's calling is unique.
And to put my story in perspective, I go back to a mission experience "after the call."
I was visiting a refugee camp north of Soroti in Uganda in Africa, which lies close to the South Sudan border. Poor personal hygiene and unclean living conditions are common in refugee camps, along with food and water insecurity. Many diseases thrive in these conditions, which often results in widespread episodes of death. Since death is such a regular occurrence in these refugee camps, burials are equally as common. Because the families of these deceased individuals are unable to make a trip back to their homeland for a proper burial, and with the excessive amount of deceased individuals and minimal space inside these camps, a “temporary camp” is designated as a burial ground.
During a time of significant loss of life it is often hard to appreciate here in the United States just how lucky we truly are to honor our loved ones by laying them to rest in a permanent location with a properly organized church service. Although this pandemic which we continue to battle did give us a glimpse of this experience. At that time in Uganda, pre-pandemic for me, I had a hard time processing how these survivors could properly grieve such a loss without a proper goodbye. The longer I spent with these people, the clearer it became to me. These survivors rely on their faith to help them overcome these hardships. This was a concept that I know very well. I learned throughout my time in the Ugandan refugee camps that the dedicated days of remembrance in the Catholic Church were especially important to these people. Again, this was a concept that sits very close to home.
October 31, more well known as Halloween, is quickly approaching. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead holiday is celebrated from October 31 to November 2. During this time, families in Mexico welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a celebration of their lives. Many cultures and religions have adopted similar traditions. We, as Roman Catholics, celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In old English the term “All Hallows” translates to “The Feast of the Saints.” Likewise, “Halloween” is translated to “The Eve of All Hallows,” making it the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1; All Souls Day, November 2. These days are designated for prayer and remembrance for all of the saints and all of the souls of those who have died.
These dates are particularly important to me. In fact, this is where my calling truly began, but I did not know it at the time. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my mother passed away just a few months before I gave birth to my first and only child. I remember feeling as if I was not strong enough to survive such an extreme loss, and I was very uncertain of how to cope with the pain. Several weeks later, my daughter was born on November 1, making my first full day as a mother: All Souls Day. This was also the first All Souls Day with my mother deceased. Of course, at that time I had not been baptized into the Catholic Church, and so I was unaware of the significance – perhaps you’d even say irony – of these dates.
After the birth of my daughter I was struggling with the idea of celebrating a new life while mourning the loss of another. I tried many methods to cope with these feelings, but none gave me the feeling of peace and comfort that I felt when I walked into my first Sunday morning Mass in a Catholic Church. I did not recognize at first that this was the answer that I was looking for, but I remember the idea of being there just feeling “right.” So, I followed my gut feeling. Much to my surprise, my “gut feeling” was actually God’s calling. By following it, I found not only my home within the church community, but also my purpose in life as a missionary.
I share this story with you today for two reasons. First, in this World Mission Month, I encourage you to take a step back from the noise of the world around us and open your mind and heart to God’s call. We are all being called in some way and, more often than not, He is calling us when we are least expecting it. Second, with the month of November quickly approaching, take some time to remember and properly celebrate the lives of those we’ve loved and lost. Open our minds and hearts to remembering our deceased loved ones and what they did and said, and taught us, and how they loved us. I truly believe that my calling to enter the Catholic Church and become a missionary was one that came from both God – and my mother.
Listen for the Lord’s voice – He is calling every day. And every day, I continue to stand ready to respond, “Here I am, send me.”
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.
'Treats' For Halloween...
This year for Halloween, have the children in your lives "visit" children half a world away ~ with help from MISSIO. Learn about their needs and what "treats" you can supply to children and families in terms of prayers and sacrifices. Your support will assist the priests, religious Sisters and Brothers, and lay pastoral leaders who are reaching out with concrete help and uplifting hope.