Personal Reflection: We must remember we all have something to offer

Editor’s note: On April 9-10, the juniors of St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Austin spent 20 hours of their annual class retreat learning from the homeless community. Led by faculty and staff, parish youth ministers, deacons, a priest, associates from Mobile Loaves and Fishes and parent volunteers, the students walked around downtown Austin carrying with them only a few basic necessities. They spent their time eating and talking with our brothers and sisters on the street, and they gathered for prayer, adoration and Mass. The following is one student’s reaction to the experience.

By Michaela Ratcliff
High School Junior

“Nobody needs me. I am not talented. I don’t have anything to give.”
So many of my peers today have doubts about their abilities. All of us criticize ourselves.
If only every junior in the world could see what I experienced this week on a “street retreat.” None of us, the junior class at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School, had any idea what we were getting ourselves into as we packed a simple blanket, sweatshirt and water bottle to carry along to this retreat, which our teacher called an “encounter.” She defined it as something that would require “sharing of self, something significant or memorable, and that would leave us changed in some way.” As we left our comfortable homes and school behind, we trekked into this new experience afraid and dreading what we might find.
Our leader, Alan Graham (founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes), strode toward a man sitting under an oak tree. We had set out on our walk toward “encounter” a while back and were relieved to rest our aching feet as our outgoing leader proceeded to greet the man. Watching the scene curiously, I wondered why our leader had stopped to talk to him. 
The man was dressed in dirty blue sweatpants, worn brown dress shoes and a red shirt advertising a sports team. He smiled at us but turned to those approaching him from the other side. A little boy (probably about 3) and his dad shyly said hello. The eight teens in my small group watched as the unshaven man reached into his sack from a Mobile Loaves and Fishes meal. Our jaws dropped as he handed an orange to the little boy. The child sniffed it and held it close to his chest as if it might run away if he let go. 
“L-l-look! He likes-likes i-it!” the man said, his grin radiated his joy. We watched, stunned, as he gave part of the only meal he had all day to the little boy. It was just an orange, but it was so much more. The boy and his dad followed the path past our group and we edged in closer.
We continued to make conversation with the man, who had a speech impediment. We learned his name was “Rocky Balboa.” When we mentioned Jesus, Rocky nodded fervently and said something about “Heaven” and “home.” His small left arm hung uselessly at an odd angle, but Rocky continued to motion with his right arm and chatter with enthusiasm. 
Soon it was time for the group to depart. I shook his right hand and he looked me directly in the eye. For a split second I was shocked and thought to myself, “Rocky is amazing!”
The encounter with Rocky consisted of sharing an orange, broken but enthusiastic conversation, and the desire I found to simply sit and listen. The gift is not always extravagant, for if no part of the body simply listened, nothing could be learned. If no part of the body spoke then nothing could be understood. 
For those of us who mumble that we have nothing to give or no talent to share, Rocky is the proof that we do. “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary” (1 Cor 12: 19-22). 
Each of us has a gift to share that makes us necessary for the survival of the Body of Christ. We are One.

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