by Mike Snyder | Apr 4, 2023 | Spring Newsletter, Vocations - Blog
A tangle of twigs lies drying in the sun,
And then a spark catches one, and she,
Astonished by divinity, topples and tumbles and ignites
Another and another and another and
Soon the whole tangle is aflame
Gibber jabbering in many tongues!
Chattering and blabbering until babbling comes
Singing – in so many harmonious parts even the twigs can’t count them!
by Mike Snyder | Apr 4, 2023 | Spring Newsletter, Vocations - Blog
The missionary life takes us to so many cool places in the world! I took this photo from a plane while flying from Nairobi, Kenya to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and I have shared it in several newsletters. It was a very clear day. Having spent many years serving in Tanzania it was a special treat to see snowcapped Kilimanjaro early in the morning standing majestically over East Africa at 19,341 ft.
As you can see it has two peaks. The tallest one with snow is named Kibo while the second on the lower left is Mawenzi. In the distance on the upper left of this photo there is Mt. Meru at 14,967 ft. located some 60 miles away.
The sight of snow on a mountain near the equator in East Africa has always amazed me. To me it symbolizes a major characteristic of the missionary vocation, namely a spirit of adventure.
When we leave the familiarity of our homelands we venture into new territory with different languages, cultures, customs and ways of life. We go to share our faith with others in a spirit of love and, at the same time, we open ourselves to learning so many new things from the people we encounter there.
As we adapt or enculturate in this new setting we establish friendships and learn so much about ourselves in the process. We are always on a search to discover and cherish God’s face in the faces of others. Centered in the Catholic faith we give of ourselves and receive so many graces in return. This is the gift of Maryknoll’s participation in God’s Mission, the gift of a missionary vocation and ultimately the gift that brings great joy.
In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2:17 St. Peter is preaching and quotes the prophet Joel stating: “God says: “I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”
Seeing visions and dreaming of a better world, a world filled with God’s love for all humankind; this is the vision of Maryknoll. So we are looking for visionaries and dreamers.
Give the dream a chance and recognize that perhaps God is trying to speak to you. When you think of spending your life in other cultures, learning new languages, and giving of yourself in service to others, I hope you feel both excitement and some trepidation because you will be forging out into something new.
Never be stymied by the challenges presented in life. Rather, be close to God in prayer, follow the teachings of Jesus and take the steps necessary to find the place where God calls you!
You and so many others like you are needed in today’s world. The message of God’s love for all people is so important. It needs to be preached not only in words but in the actions of our daily lives. Each of you is a messenger wherever you go and in whatever you do. But, you still need to take some steps in the direction that will fulfill the dreams that have brought you in contact with us. So, don’t be stymied by the challenge. Rather, dream on and make the dream a reality!
by Mike Snyder | Apr 4, 2023 | Spring Newsletter, Vocations - Blog
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So, they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. (John 1:38-39).
I will start with a quote from one of our formation directors, Fr. Brian Barrons. Or as some would call him, Shenfu BB. “Do not go to a doctor who has dead plants in his office.” Yes, we do have daily morning prayers and Mass that makes us open to receive the graces and the challenges that come during the day. Yes, we do have plants in our house. Yes, all our plants are alive, and for those that seem sickly, we have a plant clinic close to our chapel. One among us is gifted with plants and all of our plants are lovingly cared for.
Why are we talking about plants? The Maryknoll community is like a fruit orchard. Every fruit is different from the next yet quite similar. We are a proud international and intercultural community, under the hands of our formation directors; Frs. Russel Feldmeier, Brian Barrons and Br. Mark Gruenke. We enjoy being with one another, learning from each other and accompanying each other as we grow together to produce good fruits that will benefit the people in missions where we serve/will serve.
This is way more fun than you can imagine, and it is more amazing than it sounds. Our day together begins by gathering in the chapel for Morning Prayer and Mass. And as our Bolivian friends will say, “de la Misa, a la mesa” /from the Mass to the table/. We gather for Mass followed by breakfast. Then we disperse for classes or ministries. The next community activity will be evening prayer followed by dinner. But that is not always the case. Breakfast and lunch are meals that are open for personal and communal enjoyment. They are multicultural. It is not just toast and butter, but we do often enjoy mandazi and samosa from East Africa. How about the delicious Hong Kong noodles from Singapore and Singaporean noodles, wait for it, from Hong Kong. How about that!
It gets even better when we are surprised with delicious tamales and enchiladas from Mexico. One may ask, who prepares all these? The answer is that we are an international community. Each member does something for others and before you know it, you are hooked up to ugali with carne asada or orange chicken and, certain types of foods that you may never have imagined because of their awesomeness. And as you leave the fruit orchard, you have an entire basket of fresh and delicious fruit. Fruit that fills us and refreshes us. We are refreshed for our commitment to mission. The fruit orchard is always alive.
Thursdays are days we share as a community and reflect on the ways we understand each other. It’s a time of discovery. It’s a time to answer questions like “why do you always prepare ugali? Why do you always bow when you greet people? Why is your accent like this? And so many other questions. And as we grow together, we learn to take care of each other. Some members are given coordinating responsibilities like caring for plants in the house, shopping, sacristy, liturgy, music, library and many other things dealing with community living.
The weekends are always my favorite. Here, there is a grandeur of awesomeness. Since members have a little more time, that means, there is enough time to prepare a great meal, or there is enough time to cooperate in doing more items in the liturgy. During the weekends, we enjoy multicultural meals and multicultural events. We learn to prepare and serve different meals from different cultures. We get to know why each meal is very important and the history behind the meal. This is how the fruit salad from the Maryknoll orchard tastes.
That is not all. We have our own great celebrations that make us stand out. We can’t let any celebration pass us by just like that. This orchard attracts the best of the butterflies and the best chefs like to come to us to get the best fruits. We cannot miss great celebrations like the Lunar New Year, Dia De Los Magos and Cinco De Mayo, a member’s birthday, the day of the dead, our countries’ independence days, Thanksgiving and many other celebrations.
Come and experience this orchard, full of life, full of awesomeness. Come and be part of the great orchard!
by Mike Snyder | Apr 4, 2023 | Spring Newsletter, Vocations - Blog
The prophet Hosea was commissioned by God to preach to the Israelites because they their faith, disconnected from God, were separated from the covenant and were lost on their own accord. There is a liturgical song that is titled, Hosea which ponders on the meaning of coming back to God. On Friday, March 31 a group of young adults gathered at Ascension Catholic Mission Church in Houston with the purpose of having a night of reflection & fellowship. Maryknoll priests, Fr. Rodrigo Ulloa, Fr. Rafael Davila and the team leaders of the young adult group welcomed all participants who totaled 40, an auspicious number for Lent.
We were blessed to have young adults who are registered in the neighboring parishes around the famous Bellaire Blvd. here in Chinatown, in the western part of Houston. Using the lyrics of the Hosea song, Fr. Rodrigo led a small talk using three key points: bend, heart and wait. The second line of the first verse in this song says, “Trees do bend.” When he visited Africa as a seminarian, Fr. Rodrigo learned an African proverb, “The wind does not break a tree that bends.” Every young adult discerning a vocation needs to be flexible and adaptable when understanding God’s ways. What holds the tree in place under so much wind pressure? The roots that are underneath. Young adults need to root themselves in Jesus.
The second verse of this song talks about the wilderness “leading you to your heart, where God speaks.” We all experience the wilderness in some way or another. We will be thrown out of the nest at some point in life. But the wilderness is not a problem, but a place where we acquire character and strength. The wilderness helps our hearts learn to detach from temptations. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The prophet Hosea was persuaded to speak to the hearts of the Israelites who were lost in the wilderness. Discerning a vocation should not be confused with going through the wilderness. Above all, we must remember to take heart and to draw strength from our prayer life.
The final key point is found in the refrain of this song. It reads, “Long have I waited for your coming.” There is a part in Mass when we pray, “deliver us Lord from every evil and graciously grant peace in our days that by the help of your mercy we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await… the blessed coming…of our Savior Jesus Christ.” In the life of every young adult, waiting with quality is a precious tool to have.
After the talk, we had an hour of Adoration and everyone was encouraged to re-visit those three points. The sacrament of reconciliation was offered throughout the night. After benediction, we thanked all participants for coming. During the final announcements, each participant received a miraculous medal; we announced the 2023 Maryknoll mission trips and a follow up adult reflection night near Pentecost.
I take this opportunity to encourage you to keep praying to unpack, discern and discover your Vocation as a Priest or Brother in Maryknoll.
by Mike Snyder | Apr 4, 2023 | Spring Newsletter, Vocations - Blog
In 1995, I was serving people who flooded into improvised refugee camps in Tanzania after fleeing genocide in Rwanda. On Holy Saturday morning I decided to see how the new camp was coming along. The bulldozer had made a road into the woods for about two miles and I followed it until the end.
I parked my pick-up. Very soon I was surrounded by people. I told them I was a priest. A man came forward. He said he was a catechist in Burundi. He invited me to his shelter, a tent-like structure made of tree limbs covered with U.N. plastic sheeting, where he lived with his wife and two children. Then, for several hours, we visited neighbors in the same situation.
It was late and had begun to rain when I got back to my truck, so I decided to stay the night. I set up my Safari cot and sleeping bag in the back of the pick-up, which had a canvas cover. But there was no sleep. All night it rained. All night I heard babies crying and old men and women coughing. I couldn’t imagine a more miserable night. I didn’t sleep a wink. I felt so sorry for the poor people.
With dawn, the rain ended. It was Easter Sunday! The catechist returned. “Would you have Mass for us, Father?” he asked. “Of course!” I agreed.
Word had passed around that a priest would say Mass. People came from all sides of the woods. I don’t know how many — maybe 5,000, 10,000. I don’t know. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever had at a Mass.
The clouds were breaking up, and rays of the sun broke through the mist in the trees. It was quite a lovely day by the time I began Mass.
Before beginning, I stood on the unsteady bench they had made to say a few words.
“You are having a very difficult time right now! All last night I heard your children crying, the old men and women coughing. It is a difficult time. But, you know, Friday — the day before yesterday — it was Good Friday, the day they crucified Christ on the cross. From that we learn by offering our suffering to God, it is not for nothing. It will be the way to a new life. The ones we really have to feel sorry for are those who don’t believe. Where can they go? For them, all the suffering is complete hopelessness.
Today is Easter! Today Jesus rose from the dead to a new life. No more suffering like you are going through now. Today is Easter! No matter how bad it seems, today we have to sing alleluia. We are alleluia people.”
Suddenly, a man in the crowd began to sing an Easter song, a joyful melody, full of alleluias. It seemed that everyone knew the hymn. Soon the whole woods was filled with the glory of alleluia. A group of young girls came and danced before the altar; soon many other young girls joined them. The people clapped their hands, and the men broke sticks to beat in rhythm. They danced and sang.
I sat down on my bench in utter amazement as I watched this scene unfold, unprepared, unrehearsed, all a spontaneous praise to God. I felt so close to the people, to my parents and sister, long dead. I felt the whole Catholic Church was there. I was so grateful for our Church, for the Mass, the Eucharist. I was so grateful and humbled that I was a priest who could be there. Nothing else in life could come close to this. Who else but Christ could bring such joy to people in such miserable conditions? It was the greatest moment in my 67 years as a priest. Only in heaven could I imagine a greater joy.
by Mike Snyder | Jan 20, 2023 | Vocations - Blog, Winter Newsletter
It is January and in most of the United States this is the cold season. So too for our missioners in places like Northern China. But in other parts of the world not so. In East Africa, for example it is hot as the people anxiously await the rainy season. In South America it is summer time. As seasons vary throughout the world so too does the nature of service to God’s Mission of love, mercy and compassion that can bring creativity and new life to an often troubled world. Here above is a photo of Fr. Mike Bassano living among displaced persons in a South Sudanese camp. He is there simply to say: “You are not alone nor forgotten.” So simple, yet so profound!
by Mike Snyder | Jan 19, 2023 | Vocations - Blog, Winter Newsletter
The gospel of Mathew 2:12 recounts an interesting fact, namely that the three magi “returned to their country by a different route.” But what’s missing in this part of the story? The star. The star which guided them into Bethlehem is not with them anymore, the star is gone. Is returning home through a different route without the star a challenge for the three magi? Certainly. What about us: what do we do when our star seems to disappear, especially when we are discerning or contemplating a decision to align our lives to follow Jesus?
he breakthrough in this story lies in the fact that God, who led them through the old route is the same God inviting them now to let go of fear because fear can cause all our stars to disappear. Let go of fear and embrace the new route is the motif that the three magi need to embrace. Perhaps in this New Year God is inviting us to do the same and to trust even more, to make the commitment to follow a missionary vocation to the priesthood or brotherhood. Remember this: God does not push anyone to go where there is no possible road. The three magi had a choice and they followed the new route. They left fear and trusted in the new road.
Here’s a revelation: The star is not gone but is inside them. They went home through a different route carrying the star deep within; they understand that everything inside their hearts will sustain them. Because when God is inside us and we know it, our faith will show it. However, the three magi had to quiet the voices of what if. What if this doesn’t work? What if we get sick? What if we get lost? What if Herod comes chasing us? Human questions we all have when we return home through a different route. Going home through a different route can be a struggle but it is in the struggle where we develop character and discipleship.
Let’s go further. Imagine a third route. We have the old route which they took going to Bethlehem and we have the new route which they have never travelled before. But there’s a third route: return to the manger. Why not see if the holy family can help them with some of their concerns. But the problem is that the manger is empty, there’s no star, neither Joseph nor Mary, no baby Jesus. But this third route is an option. The three magi could have chosen to return to the empty manger to avoid letting go. An empty manger. Think of the apostles in the empty tomb. Don’t stay in empty promises, don’t live around an empty hope. The three magi represent people who are available, who want to see what’s on the other side because how can we know if something is for us if we don’t try it? How can we know if a vocation is for us if we don’t take the leap of faith? The three magi decided to try the new road and the last time we heard of them was when Matthew wrote, “they returned to their country by a different route.” If Jesus is calling you to follow him, think of the three magi and be not afraid to do so.
The prophet Isaiah 57:14 summarizes it well: “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle from my people’s way. I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. Build up, build up, prepare the way.” As we begin this New Year I pray that you take the necessary steps to prepare the way and follow your vocation even if it entails traveling through a different route.
by Mike Snyder | Jan 18, 2023 | Vocations - Blog, Winter Newsletter
Maryknoll missionary priests and Brothers have been serving in countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America for 105 years now. The initial missioners travled to the four corners of the world establishing the Church by founding dioceses, parishes, schools, hospitals while always proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. We have taken part in God’s Mission as messengers of God’s love, compassion and mercy for all. We are proud of our history. Today so many of these local churches are now strong. Among their young men and women there are those who wish to become Maryknoll Missioners as you can see here above in our Candidates’ 2023 Poster.
Our world has changed since those first Maryknoll missioners traveled to China in 1918 and so have the challenges presented in God’s Mission of love, mercy and compassion for all creation. These are forever changing but we are as dedicated today as those first missioners crossing oceans to meet the challenges of their generation.
As missioners when we first arrive in new countries there is excitement mixed with some trepidation. We are far from home and familiar surroundings. We all wonder if we have what it takes to learn new languages, adapt to new cultures and establish good healthy relationships with the people. We must exercise patience as we become like children once again in so many ways. Prayer becomes paramount in our lives as we acknowledge how much we depend upon God. Then ever so slowly we grow and acculturate in these new settings. In the end it is always the people in our host country who show us the face of Jesus through their hospitality and warm welcome. The transformation that takes place in us is best described as grace. And that grace, God’s goodness, brings us so much happiness!
We hope you recognize how much you and so many others like you are needed today. The message of God’s love for all people is so important. It needs to be heralded not only in words but in the actions of our daily lives. Each of you is a messenger wherever you go and in whatever you do. But, you still need to take some steps in the direction that will fulfill the dreams that have brought you in contact with us. So, don’t be stymied by the challenge. Rather, dream on and make the dream a reality!
As always we look forward to hearing from you at (email@example.com): Fr. Rodrigo Ulloa-Chavarry (Vocation Director), Fr. Mike Snyder, Fr. Cuong Nguyen and Mr. Greg Darr.
by Mike Snyder | Jan 11, 2023 | Vocations - Blog, Winter Newsletter
It’s often said that you can tell a lot about people from the clothes they wear. But, as I was reminded recently in a noisy convention center hall filled with hundreds of Catholic youth, clothes tell us nothing if we do not first open our hearts to the stories of those who wear them.
At the time, our Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Vocation Ministries team was hosting a t-shirt swap at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Long Beach, California. The idea was simple – youth were invited to bring a new or used t-shirt they could swap for a shirt that had been donated or brought earlier by someone else. Shirts would be, ideally, unique – representative of a person’s culture, community, school or church. Or, the shirt could recall a life event or portray an inspiring phrase. Most important though was the card pinned to each shirt; completed by the person swapping the shirt, the card told others something about the t-shirt or offered a prayer or encouraging words for the person ultimately choosing it.
The swap took place under the hashtag, “#Share4Creation”. It seemed like a fun but thought-provoking way of reminding ourselves that, as members of God’s family, we share this one Earth and everything made from it. Even as shirts were swapped, youth learned how we can care for Creation and impact the lives of people in distant countries through the clothing choices we make. Youth can also serve as powerful advocates on behalf of those who labor long hours for low pay to produce clothes we often take for granted. And youth, of course, learned about the extraordinary work of Maryknoll priests, sisters, brothers, lay missioners and affiliates around the world.
The idea was simple. The experience was, at times, profound.
As youth browsed the racks, some found shirts that attracted them in deep and unexpected ways. One youth chose a t-shirt donated by a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who served many years in East Africa as a doctor; he told us of his own plans to become a nurse and help those most in need of medical care. Another picked out a shirt donated by Divine Word Missionaries, she hopes to someday go abroad in mission. One young man was so excited by the t-shirt he found, he stripped off the shirt he was wearing and handed it to us in exchange.
Perhaps the most inspiring of these stories came from a young woman who decided upon one of the most ordinary-looking of t-shirts – a simple 5K race t-shirt. A traumatic brain injury years earlier, she recounted, had left her in a coma for about eight weeks. She regained consciousness on her birthday – her “new birthday”, she remarked – the day she began learning anew how to live and accomplish ordinary tasks most of us perform without thought. Months of effort passed before she could walk again. Still, she set an ambitious goal; she would someday run. On the t-shirt she chose was printed the goal she so painstakingly accomplished; she’s now able to run a 5K race though her running abilities are not as they were before her injury.
It was, however, the hand-written message attached to the shirt that moved her most. She read it aloud with emotion: “To whom this shirt will go — may every step you make, make you closer to the heart of Jesus Christ.”
Christ, she remarked, had been with her through it all. It was in Christ’s love that she found faith in herself to persevere, to run her 5K race, and discover herself even closer to God through the struggle. She hopes her own hard-won experience will inspire other young people to find faith in themselves, through God’s love, even as they endure the toughest of challenges in their own young lives.
The famed world heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammed Ali once observed, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
This young woman, who shared her story with me, won her race the same way: behind the hospital room curtain, in years of occupational therapy and ultimately out on the path, one painstakingly awkward step at a time until, in a noisy convention center hall, she held up a used 5K race t-shirt and beamed with gratitude.
by Mike Snyder | Jun 29, 2022 | Vocations - Blog
We in Maryknoll admire Pope Francis because he expresses so well what a Maryknoll Missioner is all about, namely service to God’s mission in the world. He is a missionary pope who says we should “smell like the sheep”. On Holy Thursday several years ago he said:
“Love and charity, are service, helping others, serving others. There are many people who spend their lives in this way, in the service of others. … When you forget yourself and think of others, this is love! And with the washing of the feet the Lord teaches us to be servants, and above all, servants as He was a servant to us, for every one of us.”
Some see the missionary life as a daunting challenge but we see it simply as service in response to love and God is love. I had the privilege of meeting St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta on two occasions. She once said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” If you admire the missionary vocation but feel you are not worthy to undertake it then take the time to pray over it. We missioners are just ordinary human beings like you trying to contribute to God’s Mission in this world in whatever small way we can. St. Mother Teresa expressed it well: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
I hope you will enjoy this edition of our Vocations Newsletter and if you feel the call within you, then contact us. Perhaps we can assist as you look to the future asking yourself: What does God want me to do with my life?
Fr. Mike Snyder
As always we look forward to hearing from you at (firstname.lastname@example.org): Fr. Rodrigo Ulloa-Chavarry, Fr. Cuong Nguyen, Fr. Mike Snyder, Fr. Joe Donovan and Mr. Greg Darr.