In the midst of a pretty wretched period of our human “progress,” with wars again in the Middle East, as well as in Ukraine, Central African Republic and elsewhere, with a ghastly spread of Ebola in West Africa, with a tragically intransigent House and God only knows what new gun violence at the local level, what is one to make of biblical injunctions to love one another, do good to those who hate you, etc.? Isn’t this the height of folly, a bit of Pollyanna, a sheer waste of one’s time?
John DeBairos thinks not. He started his IVC work as a member of the very first troupe here in New England five years ago. His first assignment was to work in the kitchen of Jeremiah’s Inn, a shelter for men in Worcester, MA. But pretty soon he (and they) found that he was spending more time just chatting with the men there, exchanging life stories, comparing experiences, etc. Soon he was given that as his assignment: to chat with the guys (John is a superb listener!).
After a year or so there, he moved to Dismas House, a halfway house for men getting out of prison. Again, his talent for focused listening stood him in good stead; the guys loved to chat with John. So he went a step further and started going out regularly to the Dismas House “farm” in Oakham, MA, a fairly isolated spot off the beaten path. John continued that IVC ministry until respiratory problems forced him to pull back.
So why even mention John? Because it is the little ways we touch each other, listen to each other’s stories, share the simplest of memories, gifts, attitudes, hopes, dreams, that we fulfill what the Lord expects of us. Our job, with every other Christian, is to assist in crafting the Kingdom of God here on earth, the primary injunction Jesus left us. That’s not done, it can’t be done, by erecting grandiose plans for the whole world. It’s done by all those little human interactions which make life in our corner of the world livable and lovely.
John DeBairos is teaching us something about personal priorities and about how to go about our IVC work. When Jesus went to the house of Lazarus to visit Martha and Mary, it was Mary whom Jesus singled out as having chosen the better part: to sit at his feet and listen. We’re not there to tell other people what to do or how to live their lives, no matter what our professional training and experience may have been. We’re there simply to be with, to accompany, to listen, to help in the little ways we can and, at the end of the day, to realize that we have had a part in building up the kingdom. Not a bad day’s work, that!
Simon (Si) E. Smith, S.J is a New England Jesuit with a broad background and varied international experience. He taught at different levels in Baghdad College, Iraq, Boston College, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and Nativity schools in Boston and Worcester. His major and preferred areas of instruction are Scripture and liturgy. He is known as an organizer and administrator, having spent a dozen years based in Washington, as Executive of Jesuit Missions for the U.S. and Canada. Si has published widely, is a popular lecturer, is fluent in French, Spanish and German and has traveled & worked extensively in the third world. And we are grateful that he also serves IVC as a Spiritual Reflector.