By Sarah Jane Cauzillo, Franciscan Mission Service
Editor’s note: Missioner Sarah Jane Cauzillo reflects on her ability to be present to those she serves in Cochabamba, Bolivia and the graces God has given her to do so.
“If you have come here to help me… you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian or Murri visual artist, activist and academic
I am inherently a problem-solver by nature. When I see an issue my mind immediately races to find a solution that I can implement. So, with that being my natural instinct, how did I work out the ministry of presence and accompaniment that Franciscan Mission Service missioners profess, commit to, and try to live out? Well, the most honest answer is: I was spoon-fed humility on a daily basis.
Almost immediately into my experience, I had a lot of my pride of knowledge stripped away. All of the understandings I held about myself, my capabilities, what I thought I was good at—gone. Everything I assumed about “ministry”—gone. The sum of what I thought I knew about witnessing pain, suffering, and helplessness—gone. I was retaught just about everything—everything by teenage girls; and, by teenage girls I was supposed to “be serving.”
The truth is, I had nothing to offer. This is not self-deprecation, but rather an honest attempt at humble awareness of myself in this life. My Spanish was not nearly fluent enough to communicate deeply or easily. My four years in a university studying writing and international relations meant next to nothing in this work. My 23 years of American life-skills or talents were rarely applicable to them. And most of all, I am not Bolivian; I did not fully understand the cultural contexts and challenges they have grown up in and constantly face.
I realized: I have nothing to offer them. But also, I realized I was not supposed to give them something, but simply be with them. And so, this is what I did. I could give my time, I could give my attention, I could give my love—even when, and especially when, it was really hard. I was not above them, reaching down to give them something they do not already have or could not do themselves. They and I: we are equals. We are equally daughters of God—all struggling and broken in our own ways, but oh so equally in need of love, accompaniment, and sacrament.
In reading The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus by Dorothy Day, she refers to “The Sacrament of Presence.” I resonate with and find myself exploring this Sacrament. My Catholic Bible, in describing what Sacraments are, says: “In the Sacraments, Catholics encounter Jesus Christ in real and transforming ways”—true—and, in the Sacraments, “Christ is truly present effecting the work of salvation which he began two thousand years ago. By God’s marvelous power, very ordinary elements become the visible signs of God’s presence and activity in the world.”
In choosing to simply accompany the girls at Nuestra Casa, rather than trying to “serve them,” or “help them,” or “do something for them,” I found myself able to just be. To focus on them, to focus on ways we could connect. And, in this holy and sacred space, on this holy and sacred ground, I knew Christ was present with us. In our mutual wounds we shared with one another, we felt the suffering of Christ. And, in our mutual laughter and joy we shared with one another, the Holy Spirit’s song was pulsing through us. Through God’s marvelous power, our ordinary afternoons doing homework, talking about teenage-girl-things, cooking dinner, and dancing became visible signs of God’s presence and activity in the world. We shared love, and Christ presented Himself, as He does in every Sacrament. In this simple act of Presence, He continued His work of salvation.
I still feel so privileged and so grateful for this Sacrament of Presence that God is continually teaching me to engage in and that He is continually showed me, through the girls, how to live out. So I give prayers of thanksgiving to an abundantly generous Father! I ask Him to continue helping me accept the spoonfuls of humility as I learn more in life; to help me love in ways that are just; to help me be present in every moment; and, to relish in the Sacrament of Presence.