Today is my final day as a residency brother at St. Dominic’s. Tomorrow I return to Saint Albert’s Priory, in Oakland, where I will spend the next four years studying theology and finishing discernment of my religious vocation. The time here in San Francisco certainly brought me a lot of joy and helped me grow as a Dominican. I was permitted to give talks, conduct retreats, lead prayer at funeral burials, and work with engaged couples preparing for marriage – just to name some of this year’s endeavors. Especially important were the lessons I learned from many of the parishioners. Take as an example the parents – moms and dads who (when not at work) spent most of their waking hours keeping up with their kids around the house or transporting them to various locales around the city. It all reminded me to buck up during moments of my own tiredness. On the topic of kids in general, helping out with the children’s liturgy dismissal at the 9:30 a.m. Mass confirmed that talking to kids was indeed a learnable skill. Success here was due largely to the woman with whom I was paired to preach to the third and fourth-graders. Herself a mother, she was not afraid to alert me when I spoke too abstractly to our young listeners. “Remember, Brother, these little guys are just starting out in life,” she once told me. “Think on their terms.”
Of course, my presence in the Lima Center demonstrated I had even more to learn about walking in the shoes of others. As you may know the Lima Center, under the church building, is a weekday drop-in center for the homeless that serves breakfast and lunch and enables guests to take showers, do laundry, use computers, and be referred to other services. The officially assigned Lima Center chores were handled by other volunteers, so I simply visited with the clients. At 12:30 p.m., they all headed toward the lunch line and encouraged me enthusiastically to join them. Instinctively, however, I tended to hang back until the line had formed, figuring I ought to be among the last served. Noticing this, the clients responded with confused looks. “Come on, Brother. Get in line. What are you waiting for?” they repeated. It occurred to me that my behavior toward them likely came across a little patronizing. So, I gave no more thought to where I stood in the lunch line.
During these last ten months, seemingly countless incidents have reaffirmed for me that we are all in this life together, equal in having been made in the likeness of God. Related to that is the truth that no real advantage exists in comparing ourselves to each other vainly. God’s standard for your life is the only one that matters, and it corresponds to the potential He gave you. Now, while actualizing that potential usually involves one’s known gifts, it also requires a person to leave his or her comfort zone on occasion. You may have gifts you had no idea you possessed. Besides, sometimes others just need our best efforts toward tasks at which we are not very gifted. This year I engaged in activities all over the map in that regard, both in the parish and in environments outside where parishioners led me. I am glad I did that because had I stayed in my comfort zone I would have spent a lot more time sitting in my room. I sure will miss St. Dominic’s, although in a way I feel I am taking many its parishioners with me. The voices of those we have known can become part of us, coloring our insights on an ongoing basis. Even writing these articles has come to involve imagined feedback from some of you. Also, St. Dominic’s is a regular Dominican destination, so we will stay in touch. Please pray for me as I will for you. Regardless of where God plants any of us, we will stay connected as long as we remain with Him. The good news for me is tomorrow I will still be in the Bay Area, so I’ll see you around.
~ Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P.