“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.
In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.
I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.
I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.
I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.
Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to fill voids.
The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published through the Catholic Volunteer Network in May 2018. It has been reposted with permission.
Magdalene Van Roekel is a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service
Have you ever wanted to share a valuable treasure with others? Something irreplaceably precious, meaningful, enduring, or even priceless? Would you want to entrust it with a loved one and hope he or she values it as you do? You may be thinking of a prized heirloom, award, or work of art as examples, but my hope is that you also come to think of the Faith as something most worthy and deserving of being cherished and shared like our most beloved possessions.
The life of faith for the Christian starts with his or her baptism. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the beautiful act of the transmission of the Faith during an infant baptism at Mass. In the sacrament of baptism, we are reminded of the wonderful work of God, Who desires to sanctify humanity and make us His sons and daughters. After blessing the baptismal font of water, the priest will turn to the parents and godparents and urge them to renew the vows of their own baptism in preparation for the incredible responsibility and solemn duty that they will undertake. Of course, the depth of the sacrament does not stop there. The baptized will be spiritually guided and supported by parents, guardians, and sponsors throughout his or her spiritual life.
As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” Like all sacraments, there are symbols (sacramentals) which convey a deeper religious meaning. Water represents death and new life. The anointing with the chrism of salvation represents being welcomed as a member of God’s holy people. The white garment is an outward sign of Christian dignity. The lighted candle symbolizes keeping the flame of faith burning in our hearts. As each of us know, it can be difficult to remain steadfast in our faith—that is why it is critical to walk with others in our journey of faith. We live in a world that does not know the light of Christ and is often in need of hope.
In a general audience last August, Pope Francis reflected on the significance of baptism as a sacrament of hope. He asked, “What does it mean to be Christians? It means looking to the light, continuing to make the profession of faith in the light, even when the world is enveloped in darkness and shadows.” The baptized are called to be people of hope who encounter and engage with the world in a way that proclaims the Good News of salvation. By surrounding ourselves with a strong community, we will be able to “make our profession of faith in the light” and better live out our baptismal vows.
It may have been a while since you reflected on your baptism. Many of us were baptized as infants and so we have no memory of that wonderful moment aside from photos and our baptismal certificate. In our culture, we remember birthdays and anniversaries. What if we celebrated our baptism, the day of our “rebirth,” with similar joy? Our Faith is our most priceless possession. We did not create it, but nevertheless have been entrusted with it to guard, nourish, and share all the days of our life. Our Faith sustains us not only when we want to tap into it, but at every moment in our lives. If we have fallen short at times along our journey and fallen into sin, we have the sacrament of reconciliation to cleanse us of our failings. God never loses faith in us, especially when we may lose faith in Him or ourselves! As Pope Francis said, God “never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.”
Baptism is the powerful reclamation of each and every one of us by Almighty God as His children! This knowledge changes the way we live and imbues us with hope and joy. Our journey does not end once we have been baptized. The spiritual journey lasts a lifetime. Throughout it, we are never alone. God comes to our aid in times of difficulty or hardship. Our baptism ensures this while also orienting our lives toward Jesus Christ. Let us not fear the darkness or the night, but live in the light and hope of Christ. Pope Francis encourages us:
Christians…do not live outside of the world, however; by the grace of Christ received in Baptism they are “oriented” men and women: they do not believe in darkness, but in the dim light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but yearn to rise again; they are not cowered by evil, because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of good. And this is our Christian hope: the light of Jesus, the salvation that Jesus brings to us with his light that saves us from the darkness.
May we embrace the beauty of our faith this year and look to our baptism as a point of rebirth that illuminates our path and guides us forward on our journey towards Christ!
Questions for Reflection: How has your baptism filled your life with hope? Who are some people that help guide you throughout your spiritual journey?
During the month of May, we especially honor Mary and her devotion to our Lord. While prayer beads have been used throughout the centuries by various religions, some believe the Blessed Virgin Mary gave us the prayer of the rosary back in the 13th century when she appeared to St. Dominic. The rosary assists us in growing a deeper appreciation for the mysteries of our Lord’s life and the witness of our Blessed Mother Mary. The mysteries help us to unite our life more closely to our Lord’s. Today, I’m sharing the story of a parishioner at my church who has a particular connection to Mary and the rosary.
Sharon Zahner began making sterling silver rosaries as a 12-year-old in a rural town that had a small Catholic community. She saw her grandmother making rosaries and wanted to learn how to make them too. Throughout grade school and high school, Zahner continued making rosaries and delivering them to the First Communicants in her town each year.
After high school, Zahner focused on her college studies and did not make rosaries as often. When she moved to Jacksonville, FL with her husband, she saw in the church bulletin where a nun needed folks to help her make rosaries for missions overseas. Zahner signed up to help. She encouraged her mother to help her out as well. Her mother gathered a group of 5-6 women in her retirement community, and they made hundreds of rosaries each week for the missions.
Zahner became inspired by her mother’s success and started making rosaries when she moved to her new Tallahassee parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church. At first she started making them for children and teens going through their First Communion and Confirmation. Then she made rosaries for the hospitals, then Good Shepherd’s prison ministry, and then church retreat attendees. In addition, she now makes them for children at two other low-income parishes in the Tallahassee community.
Whenever visiting priests or seminarians come to Tallahassee, Zahner supplies them with her hand-made rosaries. A visiting priest to our parish comes every summer from Africa. At first, Zahner provided him with about 60 rosaries. Father Remy asked for more on his next visit, and now it’s a tradition. Even a mission in Belize received about 150 rosaries from Zahner when they reached out to parishes around the world with the same parish name asking for rosary donations.
“If you make a rosary,” Zahner said, “you just feel good. You’re helping somebody connect with the Catholic religion. I like to know that I’m connecting someone with Jesus through the Blessed Virgin.”
Fifty years later, Zahner continues to make rosaries for the Tallahassee and larger worldwide communities. When I asked her how many rosaries she makes a year, she said it had to be a couple thousand. She made 500 rosaries in January alone, just so she could have enough if someone needed them to share with others.
When she travels to military bases or other Catholic parishes, she brings rosaries with her. Her youngest son gave out more than 150 rosaries to Covecrest summer camp attendees each year while in high school. She even made an orange and blue University of Florida rosary for me when I was accepted to college!
Zahner teaches our parish children how to make rosaries as well. Recently, she helped out at a religious education class, teaching the students how to make rosaries to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.
“Whenever I have a spare moment, I just pull out my rosary making materials and start making rosaries,” Zahner said. “People will come over to me and ask what I’m doing, and I tell them, ‘I’m making a rosary. Would you like one?’ And you know, the funny thing is, no one declines.”
It takes Zahner 15-20 minutes to make one rosary. In that time, she makes conversation with the inquiring individuals who share their stories and faith with her. Some people have admitted they don’t remember how to pray the rosary, and so she keeps rosary cards with her at all times.
“I have a tangible reminder that this symbol of our religion is going to someone and being put to good use,” she said. “I believe actions speak louder than words. This is my way of sharing my faith with others.”
Stories of everyday saints, like this one of Sharon Zahner, help inspire us in our daily activities and prayer life, bringing us closer to God. Zahner’s rosary making reminds us that sharing our faith can be fun and simple while still making an impact on the community.
I’ll close with the bible verse she includes on a sheet of paper with the rosaries she gives to First Communicants and Confirmandi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.