From a tender age I found myself most impressionable and somewhat of a hero worshipper. My father was my hero and my memory of him is sort of as a "country doctor"; he worked daily to be of service to the people where we lived - the place he himself had been raised. Many teachers and some select elders were instrumental in the process of my "humanization" as the small third child - a bit spoiled and with too much attention, round out this category.
Not surprising then, as I think about the reasons why I have been a happy camper these years in religious life, the varied faces that spontaneously arise give me light and joy; and that same process, begun long ago, continues today. God´s people are the source of that happiness.
During my life as a Jesuit I have had two basic assignments - the first, to work in our schools and the second, to work as a parish priest. In the first I have constantly found students who have enlivened my life. They were not memorable for their patient listening to the wisdom their teacher tried to import - I am too much a realist to believe that! However, their energy, their openness, their generosity and their simple joy of life, really served as the teacher during those years. The sharing of their deepest hopes and worries during retreats, the countless opportunities for conversation with them during endless hours of travel, the discovery of different persons from different cultures during many summer service programs all were occasions of great hope and adventure; and all now, upon reflection, serve as a major reason for the joy of being their teacher.
My other mission has been to the parishes. When I entered, parish work seemed to be the ministry most Jesuits did when they were worn out by the classroom routine. But while teaching in a small town in Southern Chile I was initiated into the Chilean Jesuit "way of proceeding" which is to have, as a matter of course, two or three full-time occupations. There I found my love for parish work. The church was tiny and in a poor section of town. I worked simultaneously. There I encountered new teachers - the parishioners who by their lives demonstrated what we try to preach each Sunday; that is, God´s Kingdom belongs to the poor, to those who suffer, those who work for peace and hunger for justice, they are the Lord´s happiest people. Subsequent experiences in parishes in Camden, NJ, and now in the Piedmont of North Carolina have confirmed the truth of that initial lesson. The eagerness to hear and to incarnate God´s word, the opportunity to share generously with those who have less, the offering of friendship to newcomers in the neighborhood all have made parishioners of those parishes true builders of the community - The People of God. What a joy to share in this!
One not need be a religious or a priest to be favored in the ways I have been. But all the happiness I have tried to describe has come to me precisely because God has called me to this vocation. "A joyful life" is perhaps not the accurate description for the experience, rather "a life of eternal gratitude".