Our ancestors: almost all immigrants to the U.S. at some time in our family history. Refugees from wars, persecuted for their faith, fleeing famine, carrying dreams of a better life or a desire for adventure. Our ancestors in faith: called by name, given a mission and the promise “I will be with you,” proceeding without detailed instructions or full understanding. Our Dominican ancestors and founders: from Germany, from Cabra, from Slovakia, from the hills of Kentucky, the plains of Kansas, the bayous of Louisiana.
Wherever they originated, wherever they settled, whatever their conception of their opportunity or mission, we know this for certain: beginnings were not easy. They knew privation, discomfort, lack of housing, unfamiliarity with English, dissension in the ranks, illness, problems with pastors and bishops, the mistrust of the people among whom they settled. And they never quite settled, either. They moved on. Communities grew, expanded to new houses, new cities and towns. They founded schools and hospitals and orphanages, served the poor and immigrants, and all this in and from their own poverty.
They made do. In New York, they lived in a rectory basement. In New Orleans they made their first habits out of sheets. In Detroit postulants pulled weeds on the greens of the adjacent golf course to provide additional income. In Kentucky they began in a cramped cabin, and later, lost everything when their first motherhouse burned down. In Akron, there were months of oatmeal and applesauce. In most founding groups they didn’t have the education adequate for the ministries they took on. They begged for what they needed.They prayed urgently. They studied as they could. They made do. They made do for God’s sake.
Maya Angelou tells the story of her grandmother, who in times of crisis or need in the family would say, “I will step out on the word of God. I will step out on the word of God.”
This is the pattern of the scripture readings of this week, both the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels: the story of God reaching out, naming, calling, sending; the story of humans, none of them a whit more virtuous than we are at our best or worst; none of them sure of the journey or the mission. The Word was “Go.” And they stepped out in faith. They stepped out on the Word with essentially nothing but the promise that God was and would be with them. Were they ready? No. Fearless? Probably not.
And here’s the twist, equally applicable to us now with all the unrest that surrounds and unsettles us, and a future we so much want to fathom and prepare for. The Gospel has been entrusted to us. In other words, God is Making Do with us. In Catherine’s words, God is mad, drunk with love, Creator having fallen in love with Creature, a loving so wide and deep that God has become and continues in Christ to become Incarnate in and shine through our limited humanity. And our preaching of the Gospel goes on, amazingly, improbably, because God Makes Do with us, as the letter to the Ephesians assures, with power “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.“