A Drop in the Ocean: Reflections from Mission in Kolkata

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” –Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, (1910-1997)

Seven seminarians, accompanied by Rector Fr. Jonathan Kelly and priest formator Fr. Jeffrey Norfolk, experienced this firsthand when visiting St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity in January. The routine J-term break from classes afforded the crew from Saint John Vianney College Seminary a valuable, formative opportunity to spend sixteen days serving the poorest of the poor in Kolkata, India.

Language barriers and cultural differences offered valuable spiritual growth for the men. Reflecting on this experience, Peter Davis, a second-year seminarian from the Diocese of Joliet, said, “There’s very little I’m able to give, but that actually means there’s so much more God is able to do through me.”

A glance at the men’s daily schedule in India reveals the mission’s humble dependence on prayer and the sacraments.

The seminarians started each day at 6 a.m with Mass with the Missionaries of Charity and other volunteers from around the world. After a light breakfast — usually bread and bananas — the group dispersed to volunteer sites. Some seminarians served at Kalighat Home for the Dying while others assisted at Prem Dan, the home for physically and mentally handicapped. Lunch and recreation time followed these hours of service. Seminarians could return to volunteer sites or spend time in prayer at Mother Teresa’s tomb before sharing an evening Holy Hour and dinner together.

A deepened experience of the universal Church was one fruit from the trip. Our seminarians found themselves amid a sea of brightly colored saris while traditional Indian instruments supported the prayers of Holy Mass.

“[Seeing this was such a great reminder that] there’s only one heavenly liturgy, and every Mass on earth is a reflection of the wedding feast in heaven,” Davis explained.

The intimate reality of the universal Church was evident during a home visit with fellow Missionaries of Charity volunteers. The host family enjoyed watching Holy Masses from different parts of the world on YouTube.

They were especially endeared to a bishop on the “See-Ox Falls” channel. After further conversations about this bishop and his rural roots, the SJV group realized “See-Ox Falls” was the “Sioux Falls” of Bishop Donald DeGrood, a 1987 graduate of SJV and former SJV priest formator.

Second-year seminarian Brady Martinez related his joy at being able to tell their new friends, “That’s my home diocese. That’s where I’m from!”

DeGrood himself was able to extend his greetings to this family during their visit after Fr. Kelly sent him a photo of the group.

The seminarians also renewed their appreciation for silence, hospitality and the gift of attentiveness to others through their mission to India. They noticed a palpable joy and freedom within those who embraced the poverty of having less.

“Simplicity is a choice you make every moment of the day,” one of the Missionaries of Charity sisters told the men.

This humble virtue was especially manifested by the religious and clergy serving in Kolkata. Martinez noted the ministry roles particular to their priesthood which only Kelly and Norfolk could offer to the poor.

Martinez said he gained a deepened appreciation of and desire for the priesthood watching them serve in these special capacities.

“It’s given me a strong witness of what it looks like to give fully of myself, which is the point of vocation, whether you’re a married man or a priest in the way Christ pours Himself out for His Church,” Davis said.

This article was first published in Vianney News Spring 2023.

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