I enjoy these stories of the brand-new baby Church. Christianity has become such an institution, and I like being reminded that it began as a holy and human enterprise – full of uncertainty and discernment and experimentation.
In Acts of the Apostles, we see how the disciples are trying to find their way and be faithful to the call of Jesus. They have a mission, and they’re driven by it. They just have to figure out how to do it. And they can’t not talk about it.
The same dynamic is at play in the Gospel of John. Some of the disciples, unsure about what to do with themselves post-Resurrection, decide to go fishing, a nice, familiar activity. They have an unsuccessful night, but when a random guy shows up on the beach and offers them fishing advice, they take it. Why not? We, the readers, are in on the secret that it’s Jesus advising them, and so we’re not surprised, like they are, when their nets overflow.
As I reflect on the ambiguous mission of the first disciples, I think of my community’s founder, whom we celebrate this weekend. Jean Martin Moye was a French priest in the mid-1700s who cared for people struggling with economic and spiritual poverty. He believed education could alleviate poverty, but he noticed how few educational opportunities there were for women. He taught several women to read and then sent them out to educate others and to perform the works of mercy, which are so central to our faith. In that way, he equipped women to overcome their own poverty and to uplift each other, and our congregation was born.
I’m proud to belong to a legacy of women dedicated to elevating each other and others, but when I look back at our beginning, I’m surprised anything came of it. It seems more like a whim than a well-discerned endeavor. My French sisters tend to refer to the work of our founder and first members as a “project.” I’ve always thought it was funny to call it that, but maybe that’s what it was – a project. Moye had a thought about what might work and sent a handful of women to give it a go. It was somewhat discerned, but mostly it was like throwing stuff at a wall to see what would stick. Or, it was like tossing a net over the side of a boat.
Who knows? Maybe Christian mission usually looks more like a whim than a planned venture. That’s how it tends to look for me, anyway. When this God Space ministry first started, we didn’t know what to call it. For lack of a better name, my provincial Sister Alice and I called it the Charism Project. It’s grown a lot since then. We have a real name and a website and people. It grows by the grace of God. But it’s still pretty much a project. I’m not certain what it will turn into in the future, or even if it will have one, but it’s still here. Becoming something.
Understanding mission as a project feels helpful, at least to me. Being assigned a project is far less daunting than being sent on a mission. Mission inspires me, but it also overwhelms me. A project is doable, one step at a time. When you're not sure how to fulfill a mission from God, you just do the thing in front of you. If you’re on the right track, you’ll haul in a huge catch of fish. If you’re like Peter, when you recognize Christ’s presence, you’ll jump in a lake. If not, I hope you rejoice in your own way.
The Spirit of the living God moved through the beginnings of the project that became Christianity, and it moved through the launch of my community, and it still moves. Just when I think I’m on my own, it shows up. Voilà! A new project.
What about you? How has a call from God manifested in your life?
What’s your mission?
What project does God have you working on right now?
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, and dancing.