Planted in my heart early in life was a desire to live the Gospel as the early Christians had, to live in community and share my possessions. This early Christian way of life was different from what I saw around me, radically different.
For a few years after college, I was affiliated with a congregation of Catholic Sisters, thinking I might become a nun. But when I decided not to enter the community, I was unsure what was next for me.
At the time, I was working for a small nonprofit, matching volunteers with people who have developmental disabilities for one-to-one advocacy relationships. It was important work that had a big impact on the people who were involved, but it did not feel radical enough for me.
Living in community as the early church had (or as a nun might) shaped not just work hours, but every hour of the day, and I wanted that—for my life to be wholly lived for God, to have God be the number one priority in my life. I wanted to invest every day in my God relationship and to be submerged in the spiritual, like a fish in the ocean.
During my garden year, I was continually led to pray with Matthew 25:31-46, the Final Judgment, and I gained greater clarity about how Jesus inhabits vulnerable people so that what we do for “the least” is what we do for Jesus. I remember replacing the word “for” with “to,” and seeing Jesus as the person who is hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger and imprisoned. “I am doing this (or not) to Jesus,” I would say.
That realization affected how I interacted with every vulnerable person. If I walked by a homeless person without at least saying hello, I knew I was bypassing Jesus, being rude and unfriendly. If I let an opportunity pass to visit someone in hospital or another institution, I knew I was neglecting Jesus, and I imagined Jesus tsk-tsking at me for my lack of concern.
It was not just some poor person I was neglecting; it was Jesus himself; I was deliberately choosing to ignore Jesus.
After a year of discernment as to how to live Matthew 25 in the most radical way, I moved to a l’Arche community, which seemed pretty radical. Then, perhaps even more radical, I lived and worked with Mennonites.
And what I learned from four years of trying to live some radical way of life was that no one way of life is more radical than another and no one way is better. I had left everything familiar only to discover that the outer structure of my life had very little to do with my interior spiritual journey.
It turned out that the nonprofit work I had been doing was radical enough.
I realized that what helped me live the Gospel most radically was to make God my priority and to spend time in prayer every day; and I could do that anywhere.