Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sacrificing to Idols—Is It Still Happening?

And then you took your sons and your daughters,
whom you had given birth to as my children,
and you killed them, sacrificing them to idols.
      Ezekiel 16:20 (The Message)

Manuel didn’t know it, but this line from the prophet Ezekiel that he mentioned in my Scripture class here at the seminary on Monday created for me a déjà vu moment. I “saw” it as if it were yesterday. In fact, it occurred some twenty years ago.
Early morning - Wednesday, March 12, 2014
 We were in a base ecclesial community meeting one night, and someone read this line from the prophet Ezekiel. Don Ignacio, an elderly man who worked as a taxi driver (and who seldom spoke in these meetings) started sobbing—softly at first, but then more loudly. All of us around him were shocked. What could be so impactful about this biblical phrase written 2500 years ago?

Then Ignacio explained. He had been born in poverty and had never experienced any of the good things in life. When he married his true love, Doña Estela, he made a promise that he would never allow his children to suffer the way he had.
Tomás is the seminarian in the red-and-white shirt; his father, Salvador,
died last week. Please pray for him and his family.
Ignacio and Estela had two boys. As they were growing up, Ignacio did his best to respond to his boys’ every wish and desire. If they wanted brand-name clothing, they got brand-name clothing. If they wanted to hang out with the rich kids, they got to hang out with the rich kids. If they wanted a car to drive to school, they got a car to drive to school.

Both sons went on to study law, and they were able to use their “friendships” among the rich to get good jobs with the government. In almost everyone’s eyes, they were a true “success story.”
A "success story" here would be a better house for protection against the elements.
Then why the sobs as Ignacio was telling this story? Because, he said, he knew that his sons were two of the most dishonest people in the local government. They took bribes; they denied justice to the poor; they did whatever it took to make an extra buck for themselves.

And, Ignacio went on, it wasn’t totally their fault. He—Ignacio—had “sacrificed them to the idols.” Not physically, of course, but really! He hadn’t done enough to help them identify with the poor. He hadn’t done enough with them so that they could perceive the gospel message of justice and love as the only way to true life.
This boy's family will give him a good "message."
 And, he ended, he was now afraid that his failure to have done that would mean that his grandchildren would unwittingly be sacrificed to the idols as well. How could his sons “educate” their children in a way of life that they themselves neither understood nor lived?

All of this came back to me on Monday. I haven’t seen Ignacio and Estela in many years, but I hope that they are still alive and that they are continuing their struggle to “steal back” their children and grandchildren from the idols. Surely that is one reason for this season of Lent.
Some seminarians with the first copy of new diocesan newspaper
 The Diocese of Tlapa began this past week a new project to evangelize the people here. The first edition of a new diocesan newspaper was published. It is called Montañas de Fe (“Mountains of Faith”), and it is supposed to be available every two weeks. A group of seminarians is in charge of this new project. I assist them, and I write an article called La Biblia para el Pueblo (“The Bible for the People”) in each edition.
Bishop Dagoberto, of Tlapa, examines the first edition of new newspaper
 That is a sign of hope. Another sign will be the ordination of two young men to the priesthood and two young men as deacons here in Tlapa on March 25. I have taught Scripture classes to Juan, Mario, Hubert, and Arturo, and I have no doubt but that they will be blessings for the impoverished people of these mountain parishes.
Invitation for everyone to attend ordinations on March 25 in Tlapa
 So Lent is a busy time. Generations ago, a custom began here in the mountains (not in all of Mexico) whereby different villages would celebrate Good Friday on different Fridays throughout Lent. That would allow the parish priest (and, on occasion, the bishop) to accompany the people on this important day. Need I mention the fact that almost all of the parishes here have at least 30 villages, and many of them have more than one hundred villages? I already celebrated Good Friday last week in Alcozauca (where I lived with Father Moran in the early ‘80s); this Friday I will be celebrating it in Atlamajalcingo del Monte. Each village has its unique blend of music, dances, processions, and ceremonies to commemorate Jesus’ death.
The "tlacololeros" lead the religious procession in Alcozauca - First Friday 2014
 And perhaps it’s because the signs of death often seem to outshine the signs of life in the mountains, but the native cultures here definitely emphasize Good Friday much more than Easter. As my dad might say, “It isn’t even a contest.” That’s one of the challenges of the “permanent mission” of “new evangelization” in the Diocese of Tlapa: to offer not only a message of life beyond death, but also a message—and a practice—of life before death for all those who are forced to live as “non-persons.”
Lent can mean lots of things to lots of people. What does it mean to me?
 Mission Mexico tries to play a role in that message and practice. As always, my gratitude goes out to all who help to make this life more of a reality here. God bless.     

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