During our community’s discussions, the aspect of mission that has most caught my attention is that of being a prophetic voice in the Church and the world. A prophetic voice can be seen as both calling from the wilderness or the margins, and calling us to the margins. The margins may refer to either the contemplative aspect of our faith, one often neglected in our busy world, or it may refer to being of direct service to those who are marginalized by society: the poor, outcast, and neglected. These two aspects of prophetic voice are related in the sense that embarking on a contemplative journey, surrendering oneself to God, will naturally lead to a feeling of unity and compassion with all beings, especially those suffering most.
Thomas Merton often wrote of this connection between living and praying as a contemplative on the margins of the world and fostering a feeling of compassion with those who suffer greatly. In truth, this is also a good test for those following the contemplative path of self-surrender. If our path is genuine, not subverted by the needs of our ego, it will become clear that the Peace and Joy of Christ are not meant to be treated as objects of our desire. Instead, this Peace and Joy beyond understanding is simply who we are in Christ, something we realize as we come to rest in God’s presence, a place from which we become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.
To put it another way, we embark on a journey to the wilderness within ourselves, cultivating an inner stillness, and so are receptive to God’s generous grace. Ultimately, this isn’t for our own sake, but for the sake of all beings with whom we live in union with our creator. I’m reminded of the Bodhisattva story in Buddhism, where the enlightened one returns to the world of suffering to help alleviate the suffering of others, or of the story of Jesus and the apostles on Mount Tabor, where Peter wants to remain in the Peace and Joy of Christ’s Light, but Jesus knows they need to go back down the mountain and spread the good news.
In some ways, the contemplative path of self-emptying, a path on the margins, is a resource for those seeking to be of service in the world to those living on the margins of society. When we embark on a mission of service motivated by ego – “I want to change the world,” “I need to help others” – we can lose sight of who is really doing all the work, namely the Holy One. As a result, we can easily suffer burnout or come to believe that our worth is determined by the “success” we achieve in ministry. Serving in the world from a place of selflessness – not from our will, but from our willingness to submit to God – ensures that our egos take a back seat. When we let God serve the world through us, we abide in our true selves in Christ, nourished by God’s eternal springs of Peace and Joy that, unlike our own personal resources, never run dry.