As missionaries, we are committed to wasting time. Our schedule is frequently blocked off with long hours dedicated to mastering this lost art form.
Why are we so committed to wasting time? Have we gone off the deep end after reading a new age pamphlet, abandoning mission work in favor of a bizarre means of achieving self-actualization? Not quite. Has playing minesweeper been added to our apostolate? No, not yet (although maybe Fr. James will change his mind).
What I mean is this: in the eyes of the world, the daily schedule of a missionary appears useless, futile, and unproductive. Because our work is grounded in relational ministry, we spend hours doing nothing more than hanging out with others. In fact, the fruitfulness of our work as missionaries is totally dependent on our willingness to ‘waste time’ with others!
A typical day of ministry involves wandering through the streets of downtown Baltimore, encountering our homeless friends, exchanging greetings, and checking in with them. After that, we simply listen. We allow ourselves to be wholly present to the other.
In other words, we waste time with them.
A consistent willingness to take the time to listen can bear incredible fruit. Sometimes, a homeless man will open up to us, tell us about his day, complain about the weather, and crack jokes with us. Every so often, one of our friends will pour her heart out to us. And other times, we may spend 45 minutes straining to listen to the rambling and disjointed thoughts of a disheveled, wild-eyed man above the constant roar of traffic.
Each of these encounters are valuable.
Little moments of life are essential for building relationships; by consistently showing up in the lives of our homeless friends, we demonstrate that we care about who they are and what they are going through. It is only after this relationship of trust is established that we can accompany these men and women as they set and achieve broader goals.
This is hardly a straightforward task when working with a population that has experienced a disproportionate number of fractured relationships and broken trusts. Some of these individuals have experienced so much pain from interpersonal losses, abuse, and betrayals that they prefer the isolation of the streets to their former friends and families.
One man recently told us the story of his broken relationship with his father, who, despite providing abundantly for all his son’s material needs, never took an interest in the simple moments of his son’s life. “He never came to any of my games. He gave me everything, but I would do anything just to have his time.”
This wound was the direct consequence of a father’s inability to ‘waste time’ with his son. How hard it is to believe we are worth loving when nobody is willing to enter into our inner world, where our hopes and desires remain hidden, waiting to be validated by another. This is a very real poverty.
Our patroness, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, insightfully diagnosed our society with the malady of isolation, which remains shrouded beneath the veneer of affluence. She recognized that “the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.”
This reality, which we witness in dramatic fashion on the streets, compels us to go out and waste time with our homeless friends. Yet this is only a secondary priority of our mission. Our primary impetus is to spend time loving Christ, the man who literally died for a little bit of our love.
It is easy to forget how vulnerable Jesus makes himself through the gift of the Eucharist. As he resides in the dark and lonely tabernacle, he yearns for our attention and burns with great desire for our presence and our time; it is the great scandal of Christianity that our God makes himself totally dependent on our response!
As missionaries, making a daily Mass and Holy Hour is our paltry attempt to reciprocate Christ’s gratuitous and vulnerable act of love. This is at the core of our mission. We must be willing to waste time with the Lord if we are to have any hope of learning how to waste time with others.
Please pray for our mission—pray that we may be willing to waste as much time as necessary to enable even one soul to know they are known and loved by a God who died for just a little bit of their love.