This reflection was given as part of a presentation by Scott Caroll, a member of the Mission Team, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP), during the CEDP Staff Meeting on Friday 8 February 2019.
Fr Richard Rohr, among other contemporary and traditional wisdom figures, speaks of contemplation as a way to strip back the ego, or the false self, and find the true self: the true self being the presence of Christ within us.
A pilgrimage is a disruption to routine. A physical, mental, emotional and spiritual disruption. Away from the usual way of operating. Even as a group leader operating within the parameters set by our fearless leader, the Tuffster [Mark Tuffy, World Youth Day Project Manager, Diocese of Parramatta], there was a great deal of space for the spirit to work. And by that, of course I mean things didn’t always go according to plan.
- Standing in the blazing sun for two hours because it’s the perfect spot to see Pope Francis drive by, only to have him leave via the back door…
- Being on antibiotics and in bed for a day (incidentally, I may be the only person that has visited Panama and not gone to the canal).
- Navigating a human crush point while gripping someone else’s son by the backpack straps to ensure he didn’t get lost and become tomorrow’s headline (it was only five minutes but it was the longest five minutes of my life).
- Having my wallet stolen straight out of my pocket in another tight crowd right before the WYD vigil.
Every challenge presents an opportunity. I learned from a fellow group leader about giving it up to God. That is not to suggest adopting a blindly optimistic standpoint, nor am I suggesting that God is sitting there at his computer testing us as far as we can go before we throw in the towel.
Daily prayer and reflection woven into our pilgrimage experience provided me with that moment of pause to learn more about myself. We were also constantly revisiting the formation experience of the 10 evenings leading up to World Youth Day. In my group, we continually posed the question of one another: “Where was Jesus today for you?”
God sent me three 16-year-old boys to teach me more about myself. I don’t mean they tested my patience, because they were fantastic. The three boys in my group represented elements of my own life and personality and in the form of these three enthusiastic young men, those aspects of my personality were on display for me to witness.
I realised that in the work that I do, every person I meet provides me with the opportunity to learn something about myself. Be it the opportunity to recognise a strength in them that I recognise in myself or perhaps something about them that raises a challenge within me to operate differently or adapt in order to connect.
The ongoing challenge for me is to ask that question as a daily practice: “Where was Jesus for me today?” More often than not I think we are better at recognising those moments retrospectively than in the moment.
So, in the end:
- we saw Pope Francis on heaps of other occasions,
- also, the antibiotics kicked in,
- thankfully no one died in the crush and
- I got my wallet back after being contacted via Facebook by a pilgrim from Detroit who’d found it had been dropped into his backpack when a bunch of his camera gear had been taken.
I don’t believe that praying for these things to right themselves was ever going to change the outcome, because prayer doesn’t change God, it changes the person or community that is praying.
I felt changed by my prayerful acceptance of the way things were, and my openness to them just being that way and recognising them as opportunities to strip back my own ego and move beyond taking offence or feeling cheesed off for more than a few seconds.
I am very thankful for this opportunity to step out of my routine and be reminded that God is always present with us: that never changes. The challenge is for me to stay in touch with that as life returns to the regular routine.
Scott Caroll was a World Youth Day 2019 Panama group leader and is part of the Mission Team, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.