March 9th, 2021
Being here in Hosororo now for a month and a half, there are certain things about being a priest of the Incarnate Word that I have grown to cherish. Some things I’ve grown to cherish due to the new opportunities presented to me to live them; other things I’ve grown to cherish because of their absence.
Let’s begin with the positive side of things. There are two non-negotiables I have grown to cherish by having to live them in a new way: laboring as a missionary and trusting in Divine Providence.
Missionary life here in Guyana is more than an adventure; it is a mystery. The mystery is first and foremost rooted in the cross. To the eyes of the world—especially the American world—what I am doing here is insane. There is no comfort of a warm shower, meat on the table every night, no Wi-Fi, no ease of access to any material good you need, etc. Instead, there is simply water for the shower. There is simply food on the table—mostly rice and chow mein with a few added vegetables or hot dogs. There is simply the contentment of living with what you’ve got. Turning away from the material side of things, I don’t want anyone to pity our missionary life here. There’s freedom in being without these material needs. I’ve grown to love having less available to me. It lets me focus on what’s really important: the love of Christ, the availability needed to form seminarians, the energy to do pastoral work zealously.
What is most important, however, is the spiritual sharing in the cross of missionary labors. For a missionary, one of the greatest crosses to bear is the heartache of wanting to do more for the people around you, knowing that everything cannot be done at once. It is the cross of patience. “Patience” is what the Lord keeps trying to tell me. Patience in not trying to preach and teach everything at once. Patience in letting the seminarians you are also caring for learn from their mistakes. Patience in reaching those distant Catholic communities who are all awaiting a priest. Patience, especially in knowing that even though right now the “laborers are few”, soon those the Lord is calling to the mission field to help you will answer the call and come.
It is the cross of patience that also brings me back to the Eucharist. What an example of patience the Lord Himself gives us in the Eucharist! I do not know how a missionary priest could ever live without Eucharistic love, Eucharistic faith and Eucharistic centeredness. It is only in the Eucharist—the very same Eucharist that we priests pledge our body and blood to be united to every time we stand at the altar—that I find the strength and the encouragement to lay down my expectations and anxieties and continue forward in the Lord’s work.
Secondly, this past month and a half has given me the opportunity to live trusting in Divine Providence. Looking back, I can find no other explanation than that: God is directing all things well. What men intended to be a two-week visit, God intended to be an extended mission. People here ask me how much longer I’m staying, while others Stateside ask me when I’m coming back. So far, I’ve been giving both the same answer. It’s in God’s hands. Such a firm trust in God’s Providence does not mean that I’m free from anxieties about the future. I’m human. But this is where trust comes in. Trust happens when we decide to turn away from grasping after control and turn instead towards the Lord and let Him be God. He works good out of everything. We just need to let him work. A few days ago, I was at the Missionaries of Charity’s convent to give the sisters Benedition and hear their confessions. On the wall outside the chapel, I read these words from St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Pray that we do not spoil God’s work, that it remains His work.” Trusting in God’s Providence lets it remain His work.
My new life here in Guyana has not only given me the opportunity to actively cherish my life as a priest of the Incarnate Word, but it has also given me the chance to cherish it passively. The greatest thing I lack is a priestly community.
Without a priestly community (or any other priest for that matter) I have no one to hear my weekly Confession. In a world where sin and its temptations lurk around every corner, this means that I have to bind myself even more to God’s preventative mercy and to the resolve to be more prudent than ever. “Keep me always faithful to Your commandments and never let me be parted from you” has never meant more to be in my five years as a priest until now.
Without a priestly community I have no companion to share my priestly joys and priestly burdens with. There’s no one I can turn to in the heat of the moment for advice or a second opinion. There’s no one to share those brotherly moments of “Pro” . There’s no one to cover me when I am sick. There’s no one to help pick up the slack when I’m tired or losing energy. There’s no one who can truly value and share in the priestly joy of a hard day’s work.
At this moment I would like to direct my words to all of our religious, but especially my brother priests: In your fraternal life in common, you possess an invaluable gift! Take advantage of it! Take advantage of it to save you from yourself. Take advantage of it so as to be that “mutual help” your fellow community members need to faithfully live out their vocation (cf. Constitutions, 92). Take advantage of it so as to taste the joy of fraternal life in common that is such a distinctive mark of our beloved Institute.
And to all who either read or listen to this Chronicle, I ask you for your continued prayers. Much has taken place here in Hosororo for the good of our seminarians and the local Catholic community; but there is still more to do. Like I said earlier, “Pray for me that I may not spoil God’s work.”
Long live Christ!
Long live the priesthood!
Long live the missions!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE