By Ricardo Márquez
When we leave a place is when we appreciate the advantages, values and emotions that come with a job, the colleagues who accompanied us, the shared mission that energized us; I experienced all of this in my position at the Diocese of San Diego’s Pastoral Center.
It was a gift, a grace, having the opportunity to share nearly six years of service with groups and communities in San Diego and Imperial counties. During that time, I confirmed what we often say, that one receives so much more than what we offer people. The testimonies of simple faith, the constant activities centered on prayer, formation exercises, praise and worship, service to the needy, hospitality — all of these made visible and palpable the Spirit that encourages us and gives us life.
Every time I had the opportunity to give a talk, direct a retreat and accompany a group, I returned with a special interior joy, my faith and hope renewed even amid bad news all around us.
But the day of my departure arrived. Inexorably, like a thief at midnight. I knew it would come, but I did not want it to arrive.
All departures come with a cost: leaving what’s familiar and kind, territory that is well-known. It’s easier to hear that we need to leave comfortable places for us to grow than it is to actually do it.
I was amazed and moved by the demonstrations of affection, by the farewell gatherings, the good wishes and sincere prayers. One week before my departure, one of my friends, Salvador Rodríguez, gave me a poem that he wrote on a paper napkin during a farewell dinner. He served as a leader in the group of facilitators of diocesan pre-marital retreats.
A few evenings later, he lost his life in a car accident, which left his wife, Berta, gravely injured. They were headed to the Good Friday liturgy.
Warm farewells accompanied by the death of an intimate friend, whose friendship had been stitched together one deep conversation at a time. I searched for congruence amid the laughter, joy and overwhelming sadness. Thank God Berta is recovering, supported by her children and the love of her grandchildren.
Loaded with emotions, a lot of love, nostalgia, and pain at the loss of a beloved friend, I began my cross-country trip toward my new home in Winston-Salem, N.C. Our youngest son accompanied me during the four-day journey. We had long stretches to converse, and to process what we had lived in our lives and what lay ahead. Dialogue is more fluid, without filters, and heart-to-heart encounters possible, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
We passed by the Grand Canyon and valleys of majestic rocky formations in Utah. Greatness and the immensity of creation embraced us. These were reminders that there is always something greater beyond our existence that will amaze us, will make us fall in reverence and wonder. I was moved to say out loud, like Thomas in the Gospel, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Now I again face the uncertain and unknown and must once more discern where to provide the best service in a job. To experience anonymity, the indifference of some, the suspicions of others, but also the solidarity with those who have navigated similar situations and who give me hope.
We are born to a new life when we leave our mother’s comfortable womb. To be reborn, we have to let go, to leave behind the known and to begin a new road, carrying lightly the baggage of social expectations, open to the possibilities of each new day. Everything changes, what does not change is God’s promise that His unconditional love will always be on the road with us.
Ricardo Márquez may be reached at email@example.com.