Last week Father Michael approached the mission team during one of our daily family meetings and made a request of us:
He asked that, whenever we think of or see the people we are ministering to here, we might remember to pray immediately “Come Holy Spirit, fill their hearts with the Father’s love.”
Come Holy Spirit, fill their
hearts with the Father’s love.
It struck me as simple phrase at first. It conjured to mind some of my favorite paintings of the Trinity – of the Father embracing Christ. It made me think of St. Josemaría Escrivá and all that he had to say on divine filiation. It reminded me of my own father and how I’ve come to understand the meaning of a father’s love through his own tireless and devoted example. My understanding of the Father’s love is so deeply rooted in who I am that it is almost innate. I understood it in contexts that were spiritual, theological, and personal. Even in dark moments, I would never doubt the Father’s love for me.
But, as I strove to pray these words in my heart with every encounter, I grew to realize how radical and transformative such a love can be.
Everything I hold on to, everything I believe, is so rooted in my identity as a beloved daughter of the Father. The prayers I pray, the decisions I make, all of them are only possible because I believe in the deepest part of my heart that my Daddy is right beside me, ready to catch me if I stumble and fall.
One of my favorite saint stories is of (you guessed it) Josemaría Escrivá. One day he was riding on a streetcar and became overcome by the love of the Father. He started babbling out “Abba, Father! Abba, Father! Abba, Father!” This lasted for hours.
I love that image. The same spiritual master who dropped such eloquent and uplifting lines as “remember you are a trashcan” and “one must trample one’s self” was so overcome with the love of his Divine Daddy that he spent an afternoon babbling like a toddler about it. The love of the Father can melt the strongest of hearts.
But for many of the people we are working with, understanding God the Father’s love is not as easy as reaching into your past experience or connecting to the stories of the saints. Many of the children here don’t even know their fathers. In the parish where we live, there are only 2-3 “complete” families with a father, mother, and children.
In Russia, the understanding of God as Father is not domestic and safe. It is radical. It is difficult. It speaks into the grim reality that life on earth is only a foggy fun-house mirror image of life in heaven. It’s hard to understand God as Father because it’s hard to understand fatherhood as something that is good or even as something that is actually there.
When we pray that the Holy Spirit might come and fill these peoples’ hearts with the Father’s love, we are praying for something quite intense indeed. We aren’t just praying that they might see God as Father, we are praying that the Spirit might charge into their lives and completely change how they even consider fatherhood.
There is one boy named Maks who we have been working with for the past three summers. Throughout the time we have known him, Maks has gone through various struggles. Many of these are just the ordinary struggles of going through adolescence in a city like Magadan, but some of his sufferings go far deeper than that. At times it has been heartbreaking to suffer with Maks; at other times it has been an absolute joy to stand beside him as he grows closer to Christ. Ultimately, the experience with Maks has been one of awe. Watching Maks grow deeper through sufferings and through joy has been an experience of watching the Lord place Himself directly in a person’s life and refuse to step aside.
I have learned so much about the love of the Father simply by watching how God has followed after Maks with so much love. Have you ever seen a baby taking his first steps? The parents don’t sit in the other room watching, hoping that the baby is going to be good enough at walking to not fall on his face. They get right up in front of the baby with their arms outstretched. They are ready to let him walk right into their arms and – if he falls – they are ready to catch him.
This is how God has handled Maks, with so much love and closeness. His love has been a fatherly one. He has eagerly stood with his arms outstretched and his voice urging his little boy on.
The other day Maks was praying in the chapel and came out exclaiming “God loves me!” It was a moment of understanding for him. He realized that he was deeply deeply loved by a God who saw him not as a subject but as a son.
Maks is planning on entering into full communion with the Catholic Church this year. We are so blessed to be here with him as he takes this step, but ultimately we must joyfully admit that he is not making this choice simply because of his encounters with us in the last few weeks.
Maks is making this choice because four years ago, three college girls and one missionary priest made the crazy decision to trust each other and start a mission – sight unseen. Maks is making this choice because a missionary who was afraid she wouldn’t connect with anybody made a profound connection with him. Maks is making this choice because for the past two years, two different guys have spent their summer afternoons sitting with him and an open catechism. Maks is making this choice because hundreds of people have given of their hearts, their resources, and their prayers. Maks is making this choice because every day a Mass has been said for him personally and every day a family prays for him by name. Maks is making this choice because somewhere along the line he realized that God is a Father who loves him more than anything, and he had the ability to respond to that love.
Please continue to pray for Maks as he grows deeper in faith. Please continue to pray that the Holy Spirit might fill the hearts of all we encounter here with the Father’s love. In all the labor we do here, we must admit that the most efficacious work is that of your prayers.
With this in mind, I want to let you all know of a new opportunity to help this mission! We are trying to get individual prayers for all the people we are working with here in Magadan. We will be beginning a spiritual adoption program and are ready to start now! If you feel called to spiritually adopt a person, please fill out one of our contact forms. In the comment section, please note that you would like to spiritually adopt someone. We will respond within a few days with the name of a person, a bit about them, and hopefully even a picture. It is very important that we get people to pray for those we are ministering to by name, since your prayers bear so much fruit. Thank you all for the ways in which you carry these people who have become so dear to us in your own hearts. We are all on mission together.
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team