Last month I was given the chance to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. For approximately a week and a half I travelled with FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) on a chartered boat down the Amazon River visiting secluded communities deep within the Amazon Rainforest. With me were a total of 50 missionaries primarily from the United States, Austria and Dubai. The goal of the mission was to bring the spirit of World Youth Day (an international festival of faith which occurred in Rio de Janeiro this past July) and revitalize the faith of these small communities, which essentially had negligible experience with the world outside of the Amazonian forest.
What I lived there is almost beyond words— a profound experience of love given and love received. I received and learned from these communities more than I could have ever imagined. I will never forget the multitude of people dancing, singing, laughing and praying all waiting on the dock as our boat – a boat of ‘strangers’ – approached their small town. We were welcomed with embraces, fireworks, gifts, and prayers. The locals threw dance festivals, food banquets, and processions– all for us, a group of foreign missionaries who had come humbly to share our faith. Beyond everything they could have given us, they gave us something that surpasses all measures of value: they gave us a gift of their very selves. They humbly presented to us their very work and identity – history, culture, beliefs, families and friends. Through their self-gift and hospitality they gave us something beyond the physical realm, they revealed to us our own human dignity.
The joy that emerges of the gift of self is indeed a peculiar one, for the inexorable consequence of the act of sacrifice is the affirmation of someone else’s human dignity. For it is not so much that the joy that emerges out of self-gift creates some notion of human dignity, but rather that the revelation and discovery of the already present and indestructible dignity of the person generates joy as a consequence. Simply put, it is rejoicing in a deep truth about human identity. Thus, it is only through this gift that genuine human interaction and affection can occur; the barriers of history, culture, language and prejudices are destroyed in the mutual realization of the dignity within persons. When properly received, the self-gift of one person to another opens wide the doors towards to the highest Aristotelian level of friendship, one of mutual service.
The highest joy lies in the recognition of truth in the very act of self-gift. To discover, remind and address a person’s dignity, without expecting anything in return, is the treasure of sacrifice, for it is living in the truth. Indeed, how could us missionaries ever repay the kindness shown to us? We brought our faith and ourselves, and that was enough. So is it really a surprise when I say that there were moments on the trip when I felt the overwhelming power of joy surging through my very being? Working, helping and loving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, Mother Teresa discovered this, and even went on to assert: “A life not lived for others is not a life.” In a world so full of competition, exploitation and a utilitarian mentality, to foster the virtues that nurture continual self-gift is to build a path out of the enslavement of misery towards the ecstasy of genuine joy.
By Carlos Garcia, an intern for the WYA North America Office