Come For The Sun, Stay For The Son!

By John Paul Legare
Archdiocese of Baltimore
Second College
St. John Paul II Seminary
19 March 2018

It would be hard to spend a week in Jamaica and not notice the surrounding beauty. From the first day, I fell in love with the mountains and the ocean. But as the week went on, I noticed a different kind of beauty. The more I had the opportunity to interact with the residents at Jacob’s ladder, the more I noticed their childlike trust and love. I saw the perfection of virtues which I have struggled with for years. The vices we see as so commonplace in our everyday life would never even occur to these innocent children of God. I came expecting to give something to impoverished people only to realize the incredible richness of their relationship with The Lord.

Today we had the opportunity to visit the home “My Father’s House,” a community for physically and mentally disabled children in Kingston. The most striking part of the visit was seeing the children participate in daily adoration, taking turns spending time with our Eucharistic Lord. Two at a time, they would be brought in with their wheelchairs to pass an hour in the presence of Christ. Most of the children could not speak and had very limited mobility. All the same, as I toured the rest of the house, I saw an incredible joy throughout the community. The nurses, rather than being worn down by their work, were energized by it. I hardly passed a child who didn’t have a smile on their face. They experience material poverty, but in spirit, these children have stores of grace and peace which I hope to someday receive. They are visible images of the body of Christ.

These children are gifts from God, through whom we can learn so much. As Christ says, we must become childlike to receive The Kingdom of Heaven. These beautiful children are already living in simple reception of the grace of The Kingdom, and with a little grace, perhaps we can learn to follow their example.

From Service to Seeking

By Kyle Vance
Second Pre-Theology
St. John Paul II Seminary
14 March 2018

Near the end of our exciting last full day in Jamaica – which involved a morning spent with the residents, a trip to Kingston, and a short interview on Mustard Seed’s Kingston neighborhood radio station – the fact that our trip was coming to an end was inevitably dawning upon us. Coming back from Kingston to Jacob’s ladder, we sat down together for our “last supper” before leaving Jamaica. Led by Fr. Ivany, head of spiritual formation at our seminary, we shared some of the graces from over the course of the trip.

The residents were first and foremost in our minds; for me one resident in particular came to mind: Rohan. Rohan and I spent a lot of time kicking the soccer ball around with others. He would continually ask me if I wanted to play “juggle circle” with him and others, trying to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. As we walked to his community, he continually said to me “Come to Corinth, Kyle.” It was quite touching, and slightly humorous as well. It reminded me of how the Lord gently reminds us to come and follow Him continuously.

We could also not help but be reminded of our powerful meeting with the saintly Msgr. Gregory, founder of Mustard Seed Communities. A man of short stature who packed both a humorous and a holy punch. He had given us many inspiring holy words of advice and encouragement, often ended by amusingly adding “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” He reminded us to seek out and serve those of our own community in the same manner we had served those at Mustard seed.

And so, remembering his encouragement, we said our final heartfelt goodbyes to the residents Friday night after our “last supper.” Saturday morning, we made the trip back to our seminary in D.C., with much to ponder in our hearts from the past week, reminded by Msgr. Gregory to seek out and to serve those in our own community with equal zeal.

Where Am I?

By Thomas Showalter
Second College
St. John Paul II Seminary
9 March 2018

One morning I found myself at Jacob’s Well, recalling that last Sunday’s Gospel reading was that very passage. I was over looking Corinth and the foundations of Damascus with Antioch behind me. Needless to say I was disoriented. I didn’t remember going to the Holy Land, and I was positive that Damascus was more than a stone’s throw from Corinth.

Here at Jacob’s Ladder, everything is named after some place in the Bible. Many of the villages are from Paul’s travels. We have been tasked with connecting some of these villages. Shovels mixed concrete, which buckets carried to its final resting place— a sidewalk stretching from Antioch to Corinth. This is an important task, since Corinth and Damascus are only connected to the other villages by a steep, washed out, dirt road. This sidewalk will enable much easier passage, and will make travel between Corinth and Antioch possible (especially during rainy season). Wheelchairs and mud don’t mix!

Building this sidewalk has been a blessing. I can already see the men and women here itching to get their feet on the newly laid, perfectly smooth, still-drying sidewalk. After lunch, we came back to a nice surprise: our sidewalk was freshly christened with two bare feet, with no culprit in sight. It was a hit and run! After some repairs, the sidewalk looked good as new. It will have a huge impact on this community, and many like it will soon be built: Jacob’s Ladder eventually hopes to expand from 30 houses to 110.

Our little sidewalk will enable a tremendous amount of grace, love, and happiness to flow between the residents of the two villages. We are only at the beginning of what the foreman foresees as a multiyear project: we are laying the connecting piece that will connect other future villages. This is a huge step for Jacob’s Ladder towards the future. The sidewalks at Jacob’s Ladder mean much more than those we walk on at home; ours are for convenience, theirs are for necessity. It is their highway, interstate, river…their JORDAN River! Like the Jordan, this sidewalk will connect the communities in this Holy Land, and I don’t mean the one in the Middle East.

Songs and Smiles!

By Conor Hardy
First Pre-Theology
St. John Paul II Seminary
7 March 2018

Bathing our cabin before dawn was a vast cloud of morning dew resting gently upon our mountain ridge. Walking through the small dancing beads of mist to the chapel for morning prayer, I looked to the east and was stunned! Shining faintly through, outlining the silhouettes of trees jaggedly peaking from the crest of the mountain across us, was our glorious star awaking life in Jamaica. A chorus of birds singing excitedly, resounding across the fading ridges beyond us to the west, complimented the beautiful trees swaying, and it seemed as if I had just intruded upon their own morning praises.

Eleven years ago, the founder of Mustard Seed Communities, Msgr. Gregory, was winding up the narrow and forested roads with the resident priest here, Fr. Gavin Augustine, until he came to this ridge and exclaimed spontaneously, “This is the spot!” We are blessed to work and encounter those at “this spot” and what has now become “Jacob’s Ladder.” Just today we gathered for the blessing of the chicken coop we funded earlier this year! Father Ivany said a prayer and sprinkled holy water all around the new structure.

In the afternoon, some of us continued to scrape and mix concrete, while others matched the morning birds in singing, laughing, and praising with the residents. I was in the latter group. As we were singing, a resident named Roja gestured to me to sit down across from him. I came over and he reached out his hand. Placing my hand in his I expected him to want to talk, but he looked away. I too was silent. He just wanted me to be with him. A story came to mind of Saint John Vianney, who once saw a man praying before Our Lord, hidden in the tabernacle. Saint Vianney asked the man what he does when he prays. The man responded, “I look at God and God looks at me.” That is enough. Here before me I got to experience Christ in Roja. More precious than the sun’s beautiful, life-giving rays, was here before me Christ’s shining splendor, veiled by a cheerful smile.

A Matter of Time

By John Windsor
Diocese of Bismarck
Third College
St. John Paul II Seminary
7 March 2018

The beauty of the Mustard Seed Community here at Jacob’s Ladder is like a breath of air to someone who has forgotten to breathe for a few minutes.  Having just completed midterm examinations, many of us were somewhat worn out going into Mission. But upon arriving at Jacob’s Ladder Monday afternoon, every care was swiftly carried away by the simple beauty of this place.

While the flowers and trees were strange to us, especially for a North Dakotan like me, this place felt immediately like home.  As we unpacked our bags, Michael, one of the children here, rushed to greet us with hugs and the assurance that there would be a “Paaartyy.”  Though Tuesday has been filled with more shovels than balloons, Michael has been right so far; there has been plenty of laughs, conversation, and singing.

Father Garvin Augustine, the director for Mustard Seed, informed us that Mustard Seed is, for many of these children, “their home forever. It is our job to make it a wonderful home.”  While we have put ourselves to work cutting rebar, tying joints, and mixing concrete to build a walkway for the children, our primary “job” is to spend meaningful time with those who live here. 

Most of the children simply want to know they are loved.  I experienced this with one of the residents while I was on my way to the work site.  I was intending to get “straight to work” but David caught my attention… and then (with surprising strength) my arm! I could not help but spend the next ten minutes hearing all about his friends, his accordion, and all that is important to him here at Mustard Seed.  For those ten minutes David spent with me, I smiled so much that I think my cheeks began to ache! 

What amazes me most is that I knew, with great certainty, that David loved me. But David did not need clear words to communicate this; for him, it was simply a matter of spending time.

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