On Friday, October 18, I sent the following lines to Father Fred Monk, founding director of Mission Mexico. I don’t think he’ll mind that I share them in this blog.
Good afternoon, Father Fred. I hope that all is going well with you.
I couldn’t help but notice that this coming Sunday is World Mission Sunday. In the gospel Jesus shares a parable about a persistent widow; Luke tells us that it’s about the need to pray always and never lose heart.
I’m sure, Fred, that one of the things that most impacted you on your first trip to the mountains of Mexico was the persistent prayer that the poor here seem to so easily incorporate into their lives. I still can’t give a good response to the question of why it seems that God can be so present in their lives when it’s so easy to think that God must be absent from this reality of so much suffering and marginalization.
I think of Juan, a father of three children in Cochoapa, one of the poorest villages here in the mountains of Mexico. Juan’s wife, Anna, was pregnant with their fourth child when she became very ill. Juan was too poor to take her in the back of a truck to the hospital inTlapa, so he lit a candle in front of the image of St. James in the church and prayed for Anna’s health in his native language of mixteco. A short time later Anna and the unborn child died.
Anna’s brothers were angry that Juan hadn’t taken their sister to a doctor, so they openly let it be known that revenge would be forthcoming. Sister Silvia, one of the nuns working in Cochoapa, heard about these threats, so when Juan came to her one evening and asked her to write a letter for him in Spanish about how he had done the best he could to assist his wife, about how Anna’s brothers were planning to kill him, and about how that would leave his three small children orphans, she automatically assumed that the letter was to be sent to some kind of police force or government office.
You can imagine Silvia’s shock when, after the letter was finished and Juan had added his thumb print as a signature, she asked Juan whose name she should put on the envelope. He replied, “God the Father.” Juan explained that he had no doubt but that the brothers would carry out their threat to kill him, and since God had let his wife die even though he had prayed hard, maybe God didn’t understand mixteco. So he wanted to be sure to have this letter written in Spanish so that he could pass it over to God the Father after his death. Juan was murdered three days later. Silvia made sure the letter was in his pocket when he was buried.
I don’t think that God fails to understand prayers in mixteco. And I don’t think that God wanted Anna to die, just as I don’t think that God wanted Anna’s death to lead to Juan’s death. So why did they die? Did persistent prayer make a difference?
All kinds of answers could probably be offered to “explain” this all-too-common reality. One thing I do know is that malnourishment, preventable diseases, lack of education, health care and decent living conditions, and exclusion from the many glorious gifts of God’s creation—gifts for which many of us said “Thank you” to God just last weekend—all played a role in these deaths.
I appreciate the fact that our pope, Francis, seems to have great clarity in terms of the evil of poverty—the sinfulness of poverty. And he has been very clear that alleviating poverty must be at the very heart of the church’s mission; it’s not something that’s optional or secondary. It is at the heart of our role as members of the community of Jesus’ disciples.
So I guess that I believe that, as the song we often sing at Mass expresses it, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” But I often wonder: do we hear the cry of the poor? And even more I wonder: do we hear the voice of God that is surely inviting us—pleading with us us, I daresay—to be God’s instruments/stewards/disciples in transforming ourselves and in transforming our world? I think of the words expressed by Saint Teresa of Avila almost five hundred years ago:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours.
Thank you, Father Fred, for starting Mission Mexico. Thanks to all of the people who support Mission Mexico. Thanks to all of the people who pray for Mission Mexico. All of us involved with Mission Mexico try, with humility, hope, love, and persistence, to respond to this invitation from God to struggle against death and for life. We do what we can to help the Juans and the Annas (and their unborn children) live to a ripe, old age with dignity and love. We do what we can to educate people like Anna’s brothers so that mercy and solidarity, not revenge and death, are the guiding lights of their lives. We do what we can to live the advice of the prophet Micah: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
None of this would be possible without the persistent prayer mentioned by Jesus in the gospel. Such prayer makes love, solidarity, justice, and hope part of our DNA as disciples of Jesus. It will give new truth to the psalmist’s words put in the mouth of our loving God:
“Call on me in your day of trouble;
I will deliver you,
and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).