Having a columnist around for a number of years is a little like having a neighbour around for a while. Even if you don’t like him, you can’t help but be a little curious about his life and appreciate being told if he’s making any major moves. With that in mind, I risk, in this column, sharing about a major new move in my own life.
Last month, I attended a General Chapter of the religious order to which I belong, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Among other things, that meeting concerned itself with electing new leadership for our order. I’m not sure who guides the Holy Spirit, or whether that Spirit was indeed guiding us, because I was elected to serve on our General Council in Rome as Councilor for Canada for a six-year term.
Practically, it means that for the next six years I will have two addresses, one in Rome and one in Canada. For five months of the year, I will be in Rome (or in some other country within which our General Council will be meeting) and for the rest of the time I will be in Canada, with residence in Toronto.
What’s involved in the job?
As a member of our General Council, I will be part of a team of ten persons who will try to direct, animate, and otherwise lead our congregation, the Oblates. We serve in nearly 70 countries around the world. As the councilor who represents Canada, my more specific task will be to try to bring the agenda of the Canadian church to Rome and to try to help Rome deal with those concerns, even as I take the Oblate concerns of Rome back to Canada.
I have mixed feelings about the job: On the one hand, it is a marvelous opportunity. Administration, properly imaged, is really the task of community building. As a congregation that is trying to serve the poor we, the Oblates, are facing two major challenges right now. In the developing world, we are literally exploding with growth and the task there is to help initiate this growth, help give it the resources it needs, and help solidify it ecclesially. Serving on our General Council gives me the opportunity to put my gifts, such as they are, at the service of the these young communities. In the Western world, as we know, we are facing the virtual collapse of nearly every kind of community, including the family and church. Trying to be a bit of an ecclesial liaison between Canada and Rome will, I am sure, demand of me every energy and talent I possess.
The job will give me the privileged opportunity to live with and meet with people from all over the world. On our General Council alone there are persons from nine different countries and from every continent. Living in community with these people will give me, first-hand, an experience of world-church. As well, though our administration is based in Rome, we have meetings all over the world. Hence, for six years, I will get the chance to be (somewhat at least) more of a citizen of the world than of any one country.
On the other hand, this job means some other things too: It means postponing my return to teaching and the academic world (where my heart still lies and where most of my natural gifts lie). Teaching is coded into my very genes, I have worked my whole life to become an effective teacher, love teaching, and now, it seems, that is not to be for now and perhaps for never. Letting go of that will mean some grieving.
Also, the job involves constant of travel. Rarely will I be at one place for more than a month at time. I have had a small taste of this (life on the road) while I served as provincial and already know that the road gets both stale and lonely real quickly. Travelling all over sounds a lot more exciting than it really is. In effect, most of the time you are alone in that you are away from family, friends, and the people you know, as well as being away from your own space, rooms, bed, routine, and support systems. Travelling constantly soon enough makes you long for its opposite, home and stability.
All of that notwithstanding, on balance, I feel more enthusiasm than hesitation as I begin this new chapter in life.
Of course, I intend to keep on writing, all kinds of things, including this column. Hopefully meeting persons from all around the world, living in an international community for good parts of the year, and visiting different continents and cultures will enrich what I have to say each week.
When I left the office of provincial, I told my successor that I was open to being sent anywhere because, to my mind, there are no uninteresting persons or places on this planet.
Well … this new challenge is a little more interesting than I either dreamt or wanted, but it1s a good challenge. I ask for your prayers so that God might give me the spirit, health, humour, and generosity needed to serve with gratitude.