Having had the joy of traveling to Kenya annually for the past three years, I have begun to look forward to seeing specific people each time I visit, people I have come to know over time, people I have the privilege of calling friends. One of those individuals is Father Tom, a Catholic missionary priest who has served in Kenya for forty years. We’ve never actually met, but I have come to know him by worshipping with him and his “congregation” – the patients, Indian sisters, doctors, nurses, and pastoral counselors of Nazareth Hospital, a mission hospital outside of Nairobi – in the “sanctuary” of the hospital corridors.
This Sunday morning is my last morning in Kenya, and, thus, our time of worship would be some of the last words I would hear from my Kenyan brothers and sisters before I began the journey back to Atlanta – and what powerful words they were. Father Tom’s message was a gift to me, and I hope it is to you as well. The following is a synopsis.
(Note: The Scripture was read in Swahili. Between my understanding of the English sermon and my very limited Swahili, I believe the Scripture text was Matthew 11:25-30.)
This particular Sunday marks the beginning of “ordinary time” in the Catholic Church. Father Tom said that we often think of ordinary time as exactly that – ordinary, uneventful, maybe even boring. While today may be an ordinary day, tomorrow in Kenya is an eventful, monumental day, he noted. Tomorrow is Saba Saba, the anniversary of the founding of the opposition party, a day always celebrated with a political rally. Given the recent attacks in Kenya and the resulting political tension, many people feared the rally would lead to violence. Father Tom said, “We can look upon tomorrow – any of our tomorrows – with fear, or we can look upon them as a moment of discovery. Crisis is not a danger; crisis is an opportunity. Every birth, every journey to discovering who we are, begins with a crisis.”
Father Tom then recounted his own journey in Kenya. He said, when he first came to Kenya, someone asked him, “What did you come to Kenya to do?” It was an interesting question, he said, and forty years later he’s still asking himself the same question. To him, the answer as he experiences it is as follows: “If I didn’t come here for you to evangelize me, if I didn’t come here for you to reveal Jesus to me, if I only thought I was to reveal Jesus to you, then I may as well go home tomorrow. You may think that I as the priest am here to reveal Jesus to you, but the truth is you reveal Jesus to me even more. We are here to reveal Jesus to one another.”
After sharing his story, he shared the story of a friend of his and how, when she was four months pregnant with her fifth child, her husband died right beside her of a massive heart attack. After the child’s birth, she told Father Tom, “What kept me going those remaining months of my pregnancy was the anticipation of seeing the face of that child which would reveal to me something of the face of my husband that I’d never seen before.”
Reflecting on her words, Father Tom asked, “Do we look at both ordinary times and monumental times in our lives as moments that will reveal to us something of the face of Jesus that we’ve never seen before? That’s where joy comes from. The life of joy is hard work, but it is good work.”
In closing, he said, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. There is no tomorrow in God. There is only this day. Live this day as if it’s your first day, your last day, and your only day.”