Happiness Found Doing as Jesus Did
McCahill, Bob, National Catholic Reporter
Every Christmas, we at NCR, as well as many, others, receive a letter from Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill, who, many years ago, decided his life's ministry would be the simple act of being present to the people of Bangladesh. He arrives in a village, makes friends, helps the locals when they allow it, but his main objective is simply being there. Following is his letter for 1998:
Rasheeda, a 4-year-old girl, had spurned food for a whole week and was starving. I pleaded with her mother to accompany me to the nutrition center where her daughter would recover. The woman refused because of fear for herself of what men in the unknown city might do.
A young lady named Zulekha requested my help for burns she had received 11 years earlier. Now she wants her deformity corrected. It took me a few weeks and a bit of exertion to arrange with an accommodating surgeon for her treatment. On the appointed day, however, Zulekha did not appear.
I mentioned these incidents in letters to friends. They commented, "How depressing it must be to have your efforts rejected.... It must be frustrating to be able to do so little for the people."
It is kind of friends to commiserate with me, but depressed and frustrated I am not. The truth is that I am steadily optimistic, because I sense that I am doing with my life what God wants me to do. The Lord puts me in a position to mightily assist the bodily health, and save the lives, of many. Never mind that a mere fraction of the disabled and sick take advantage of my offer to aid them or that numerous others fail to follow through after all has been readied for them. I strive to be helpful. Some folks accept, others refuse.
I have learned to understand that many of the Muslims I want to help are so suspicious of missioners that they are incapable of using me as I wish to be used, that is, for their own welfare. Foreigners are not automatically trustworthy in a country having a colonial history. Also, it is a widely held belief that "Christians only help Muslims in order to convert them to their religion."
It heartens me that lots of Muslims do, indeed, welcome my willingness to assist them as a brother. Some of them regain their health and begin to live fuller lives. On the other hand, some persons I have "helped" get worse; some die. Critics and other onlookers observe that I persist in trying to help. For them, even my unsuccessful attempts to save instill the lesson that Christians highly value Muslim lives.
A debate continues about the reason for "the vocation crisis" in the church. One opinion is that few persons are drawn to the priesthood because most priests do not adequately proclaim the joy they feel. So, for the record: I'm happy. As a matter of fact, you may not know anyone happier than I am. This happiness has more to do with inner peacefulness than with frequent smiles.
From time to time I ask myself: Why am I so happy? Is it because Maryknoll and the bishop, of Mymensigh enable me to restore and save physical lives as the major focus of my work? Or is it because Muslims and Hindus accept this witness of a life lived among and for them with ever growing openness and approval? …