Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

“Father, you should go on the Senior Mission Trip,” they said… “It’ll be fun,” they said… and they were right! As I mentioned in anticipation a couple weeks ago, I spent March 10-14 with our senior class from Sacred Heart School on their Senior Mission Trip to Oklahoma City.

Among its other purposes, this trip provides an opportunity for the senior class to spend five days in intentional fraternity as they prepare to conclude their time at Sacred Heart School. The hope is that this gives them the chance to reflect upon the time they’ve spent together over the years, and to be thankful both for the gift of their Catholic education and for the gift of one another. To this end, ample time in our itinerary was devoted simply to having fun and enjoying one another’s company: sharing meals together, paintballing, a basketball game, and a boat-ride scavenger hunt in downtown Oklahoma City. But it wasn’t only a senior class trip – it was a mission trip. In addition to fun and fraternity, then, our goal for the trip was to provide a shared service experience for our senior class, in the context of which we could assist them to pray and reflect together on their Christian life, and how they plan to continue living the Christian life after their graduation from Sacred Heart School.

To help us enter into the whole week with this goal in mind, we gathered together on Sunday evening for a shared reflection on Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. There, Jesus foretells for His disciples the judgment that will come when He returns in glory. And the criterion for judgment that he foretells is whether or not we have fed Him when hungry, given Him drink when thirsty, welcomed Him when a stranger, clothed Him when naked, cared for Him when ill, and visited Him when in prison. And when asked when we saw Him thus and did or did not minister to Him, Jesus will reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” or, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” Because these words are probably familiar to us, we are at risk of failing to realize how shocking they are. Jesus does not say that it pleases Him when we do those things. He does not say that it displeases Him when we don’t do them. Jesus says that we either do them – or fail to do them – for Him.

So the purpose of our mission trip was nothing less than to encounter Christ Himself in those whom we served, and to draw out Christ in one another as we did so. So we began each morning with the celebration of Mass, encountering Jesus together in His Word and in the Eucharist, to prepare us to encounter Him throughout the day in our service work. On Monday and Tuesday, we all worked together on various projects for Mission OKC, a ministry that focuses on outreach to children and youth in low-income communities. On Wednesday, the ladies worked at a women’s shelter operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the guys worked at a housing facility for homeless adults with mental illness operated by the Neighborhood Services Organization. We concluded each day with a time of prayer together, to give us the chance to reflect on where we had encountered Him throughout the day.

There were also two notably unique opportunities provided by our location in Oklahoma City. On Wednesday afternoon we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, built and operated to commemorate victims, survivors, and heroes of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Some of the students had been learning about this event in class recently, and it was a powerful experience for all. On Thursday morning before heading back to MO, we visited the Bl. Stanley Rother Shrine, built to house the tomb of an American priest from rural Oklahoma who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981 and beatified in 2017. Learning some about his life and celebrating Mass at his tomb reminded us that saints are real people like us who learned to say “Yes” to God’s will and to give of themselves – sometimes heroically – in service to others.

The Mission Statement of Sacred Heart School reads as follows: Inspired by the tradition of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Sacred Heart School offers a high-quality Catholic education to willing students of all faiths and economic backgrounds. The opportunity to engage with and to learn from professionally-prepared and fully-dedicated faculty in a familial, faithful community is our hallmark. Through this steadfast commitment to one another, we all become the fullest reflection of Christ in service to the world. I am so grateful to have spent the week with the 28 students of our senior class, and with the other chaperones of the trip, Mrs. Manning, Mr. Gonzalez, and Mrs. Nau, directly serving the mission of our school, as we worked side-by-side to assist one another to become the fullest reflection of Christ in service to the world.