By Cliff Garvey
I drive across the big bridge into Gloucester for my first day at work. It is an unusually cold, wet, and windy day for early June. The rain is pouring down in sheets. A fog is setting in. A dreary day. Across the bridge, after the circle, the road narrows. The cars and the curbs and the houses seem to press against the sides of the car. My shoulders are hunched. My hands tightly grip the steering wheel. My knuckles turn white. I make the mistake of turning down Railroad Avenue. And I come face-to-face, for the first time, with the buoy in the road. Who puts a buoy in the middle of busy intersection? Who puts a buoy where a traffic light should be? Who put that buoy in the road?
I can see Saint Ann’s Church, but how do I get there? How do I get into the rectory parking lot? I should turn left. But I really don’t like turning left against oncoming traffic. Finally, a quick turn on to Prospect Street; then a quicker turn into the driveway. Father Jim is waiting for me outside in the rain. Why, why, why isn’t he wearing a raincoat? What’s wrong with him? I make a mental note to tell his sister about it. I emerge from the car into the pouring rain. I frown, roll my eyes, look at the pastor, and grumble: “Find me another way to get here or I’m not coming back.” Well, I’m still here. And the buoy (that blasted buoy) has been refurbished, repainted, and returned to where it doesn’t seem to belong. The buoy in the road.
Why do I share this story? A few years ago, the Assisi Project used an insightful book called Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World as the foundation for our formation program. In that book, Leonard Foley and Jovian Weigel write this: “The places where we work are the places we are called to live ‘Gospel to life, [and] life to the Gospel.’ We live the Gospel where we work, and where we work challenges us to learn the Gospel way more fully (194).” I might have chosen to continue teaching. I might have chosen a less busy, less demanding, less stressful life. I might have chosen to say “thanks, but no thanks” to Father Jim, my best friend. But I didn’t. I said yes, again, to full-time parish ministry. Well, to be honest, it was more like: “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”
The places where we live and work are certainly places where we are called to live the Gospel. And the places where we live and work certainly do challenge us to learn the Gospel way more fully. Jesus loves to call us. Jesus loves to challenge us. And Jesus loves it when we say yes without asking whether or not there’s a buoy where it doesn’t seem to belong.
If you are a husband or a wife, then you already know about what it means to be called and challenged. You know that nurturing and keeping together a marriage is hard work. If you work or worked your whole life long with colleagues and supervisors and the supervisors of supervisors, then you already know about what it means to be called and challenged. You know that getting a job, keeping a job, being successful in your life’s work, and making ends meet is hard — sometimes very hard. And if you are a parent or grandparent or guardian, then you already know about what it means to be called and challenged. You already know that loving and raising and keeping together a family is the hardest work of all.
Do we ever consider how answering and cooperating with the call to marriage or parenthood; or the call to occupation or vocation can make us co-creators with God? Do we ever consider how daily chores, long commutes, putting up with kids, spouses, or bosses can make us co-creators with God? Do we ever consider that the work we do each day (whatever it is) can make us co-creators with God? In Live Like Francis, we are told that “when we work, we use the gifts God has given us…Work is a gift we receive. Work is a gift we give. We use our gifts to continue God’s work of creation and in doing so, God continues to create us (192).” God continues to create in us, through us, and with us — despite our faults and failings and limitations. God embraces us as we are, for who we are, and calls us to join in his work.
Think about that word: embrace. It means to take or hold close. It means to enfold and envelop oneself around another. It means to accept and welcome with open arms. Now think about this: When we embrace our gifts and talents, God continues to build up his kingdom — in us. When we embrace the work that God has given us, God continues to build up his kingdom — through us. When we embrace our place, our role, and our vocation in this world, God continues to build up his kingdom – with us as his co-creators.
This means that the value of our work is not measured by the money we make; or by the number of followers we have on social media, but by our dedication and faithfulness to what we are called to do in our homes, our offices, our parishes, and our neighborhoods. The value of our work is not measured by power and prestige, but by our generosity, our humility, and our kindness toward those we are called to love and serve and work with in those same homes, offices, parishes, and neighborhoods. And the value of our work is not measured by self-satisfaction alone; but by how our work makes life better for others, by how our work contributes to the co-creation of God’s kingdom.
So, how do we deal with the buoy in the road? How do we deal with the sad turmoils and petty tyrannies of life? How do we cope with those hassles and heartaches that God gives us when he gives us our work, when he calls us to serve, when he blesses us with the cast of characters who are our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues? Sadly, I don’t always deal well with those buoys in the roadways of life. But I know this. I know that what we read in Live Like Francis is true: “It is Christ alone who is the missionary. He works through us, and he succeeds only to the degree that he can create his life in us first (204).”
Whether we are spouses or parents, pastors or lay ministers, or anyone who works hard and loves much, we can truly become co-creators with God when we open our hearts and minds and arms to embrace the person that God calls us to be. We can truly become co-creators with God when we open our hearts and minds and arms to embrace the work that God calls us to do. We can forgive any insult, love any sinner, mend any fence, and navigate around any buoy in the road. We can love God and love others without counting the cost. We can become the disciples that God calls us to be. We can become the Church that God expects us to be. And we can live like Saint Francis of Assisi who said: “This is our vocation: to heal wounds, bind what is broken, and bring home those who are lost.” We might just find the lost ones looking for us at the buoy in the road.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a spiritual director, retreat leader, writer, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation.
Thank you for listening to the Assisi Project Podcast: The Buoy in the Road. This audio recording is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our ongoing programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with members, friends, and followers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages to more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or smile.amazon.com; or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!