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by Andrew McIlree, Class of 2006
Reflection on Romans 15:4-9
My faith and spirituality took a major hit in February of 2007.
The impoverished and violent neighborhood I lived and served in as a Jesuit Volunteer was frozen and filled with lost souls, many of whom could not afford to heat their homes or buy warm clothes. It was heartbreaking. One family a block over from my house had been stealing electricity to work a space heater – a common practice in the ghetto – and a power surge caused an explosion while they were sleeping. They all died. In another case, a homeless client of mine, his palms raw and black from frostbite, asked me for help in finding a free clinic because the hospitals would not treat him without insurance. The harshness of winter made an already bleak, hopeless place turn into a hellish nightmare for which I had a front row seat.
Life was not easy for my family back in Wisconsin, either. Doctors advised my mom, who potentially had cancer, to have a hysterectomy. Thus the woman who had always been a great source of strength for me was now facing a serious, challenging ordeal. Then my little brother was physically assaulted at a college party and had to be hospitalized. I was powerless to help them. My life, both in Philadelphia and in Wisconsin, seemed to be falling apart.
“Why have you left me?” I cried to God in tears, feeling empty and abandoned. “What’s the point of this? Why am I here?” I felt hammered down in the winter silence, my spiritual endurance lost. The idealistic aspirations that had led me to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps now seemed hollow and false.
But God had not abandoned me, I came to understand. On the contrary, my Jesuit Volunteer community and the Norbertines of Daylesford and De Pere abbeys helped me to find “the God of endurance and encouragement” that Paul writes about in Romans 15. God’s love came through their support, and is what got me to work every day through the darkness.
I would not let up, I vowed over and over. I would not let go. I would be a Jesuit Volunteer, focused on my homeless friends and finding God in them. “Come on,” I would taunt back at the demons in my head. “Come on, you bastards, is this the best you can do?”
I realized later, as the temperatures warmed and life got better in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, that the God of endurance and encouragement had formed in me a more authentic, grittier spirituality out of an extremely painful experience. It is a blessing, helping me to see Christ more clearly in the suffering and lost, and to reach out to them as a companion in their darkness.
John Chrysostom, an early Church leader who endured many hardships throughout his ministry, sums up Paul’s thoughts in Romans 15 much better than I: “These things were written so that we might not fall away, for we have many battles to fight, both inward and outward. But being comforted by the Scriptures we can exhibit patience, so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another – hope brings forth patience, and patience, hope.”