By Truong T. Le, SVD
Thailand District, Australia Province
Being nobody special is a challenge because we all want to be somebody; at times, being that somebody gets in the way of the mission. Being nobody as opposed to somebody means that we cannot be obsessed with ourselves or how others see us.
A good example is the founder of the Society of the Divine Word, St. Arnold Janssen, who was an ordinary man called to do an extraordinary thing. At a time when everything around him was being destroyed, he was called to build something new, that is, the Society of the Divine Word (also known as Divine Word Missionaries).
As the story goes, someone once said of St. Arnold Janssen, “He must be a saint or a fool.” This idea concerns us as well: Are we saints or fools? The answer depends on perspective: are we focused on God? Do we dare see as God sees or are we too preoccupied with how others see us? Ultimately, Divine Word Missionaries must learn to let go of these external speculations and find confidence in God’s vision for us.
Secondly, we cannot be overwrought by our struggles, and we cannot be addicted to our successes. In difficult times, self-pity leads to self-loathing, and being too focused on success leads to arrogance. Both extremes are ways to foster our own sense of being somebody, feeding into our egos.
Blessed Maria Helena Stollenwerk, who with St. Arnold Janssen founded the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, gave us wisdom to help us plant our feet on the right path, that is, “To God the glory, to my neighbors the benefits, and to me the burden.”
Everything must be placed in the right context and order. The struggles or successes in our missionary efforts must be placed in the context of God’s mission and the service to others. Only then will our daily responsibilities and work make sense, giving meaning to our lives, giving us an identity.
This philosophy keeps us firm and determined in the mission in Thailand–pushing us forward through our struggles and going beyond our successes. Love of God and neighbor should always be the focus; anything other than that is all about us and how we build up our sense of worth and pride. We must not fall into these trappings.
It is precisely when we strive to be nobody that we find ourselves to be a somebody, namely, the Body of Christ. By the virtue of our baptism, we are bound. By our religious vows, we are sent. The Divine Word community in Thailand is comprised of ordinary men, sinners, who are graciously chosen by God to become something of good use.
God is the weaver, and we are the threads. By our individual strands, we are nothing, but together we become something. Our Superior General Father Heinz Kuluke SVD assured us on his last visit, saying, “With what I see, [this community] is doing some good, here, in Thailand. Be sure of that. This place would be poorer without your presence.”
Once in a while we need to reflect and cleanse ourselves of anything that takes us away from God’s call, God’s mission. Recently during our annual retreat, a speaker reminded members of the Divine Word community in Thailand of a basic truth: we are because God is. We are doing some good for the people of Thailand because God makes it work.
Born in Vietnam, Frater Truong Thong Le SVD moved to the United States with his family when he was six years old. He grew up in North Carolina and joined the Society of the Divine Word after completing his bachelor’s degree. Currently, he is fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training Program in Bangkok, Thailand. When the program ends, he will return to Chicago and resume seminary studies at Catholic Theological Union.