Sunday, May 16, 2010

Signs of resurrection

I spent Holy Week in the town of Vera Cruz, which is the main town in the municipality. It is a very poor municipal seat. The only businesses are pulperias (little mom and pop grocery stores) and two businesses that sell liquoir! There is a school up to the 9th grade but kids have to go to Santa Rosa or other towns for the Honduran equivalent of high school. Housing is poor and malnutrition is a real problem. It is a sad place and I felt the sadness during Holy Week – even in terms of the way people celebrated the liturgies. In some ways, I was shaken by the experience and it didn’t feel a lot like Easter.

This past weekend I was back, with Casey Young and Steve Nicoll from the West Des Moines Christian Church (Disciples of Cross) which is considering helping Vera Cruz rebuild its church, which is falling into ruins.

Casey knows the pastor of the Dulce Nombre parish, Padre Efraín Romero, from Casey’s time as a Peace Corps workers in San Luis, Santa Barbara, where Padre Efraín was before coming to Dulce Nombre.

What is unique, for Honduras, is that a Protestant church will be helping build a Catholic Church.

On Saturday, Padre EFraín, Casey and Steve, and I net with about 40 people from Vera Cruz in the church. The mayor and the vice mayor were there as well as many of the people who have roles in the church and the church community council. The people were quite attentive as the possibility of receiving help with the church was explained. A critical question was whether to repair the church or to tear it down and build a new church..

The mayor and others spoke of building a new church. Steve was very attentive and, as a sort of devil’s advocate, asked whether there might be feeling attached to the old church, which is sort of colonial in style. The people seemed in favor and the mayor asked for a vote. At that moment Doña Albertina rose and raised her hand to be recognized. I wondered whether she might have some real reservations since she does so much to clean the church and prepare it for services. But, no. She was the first to make known her rousing support for building a new church.

It was a sort of a resurrection experience. The people were animated at the chance of a new church and the fact that another church, a US Protestant church, was willing to help. Other hopes about development of the community were shared. It seemed like a new day.

Sunday morning I went back with Casey and Steve for the Celebration of the Word in Vera Cruz. There seemed to be a different spirit. The singing wasn’t all that good – but many joined in. Teodoso was back a one of the celebrators of the Word and Nelson came again from El Ocote to help in the celebration.

They asked me to read the Gospel before the celebration began. But as the second reading was being read, Nelson asked me to preach. Thanks be to God I had reflected on the readings during my morning prayer.

Today the Church here celebrates the Ascension, when Christ bodily ascends into heaven. I made a lot of points – which I can’t remember at this moment. But I recalled that Christ is no longer bodily with us. He had promised to send the Spirit to the community of disciples. Now the Church is the Body of Christ in history.

We are the Church, I reminded the people. We are called to renew the church. In Vera Cruz the challenge is to rebuild the church in two senses – the physical building, the templo, as they sometimes call it here, as well as the church, the Body of Christ. We are called to rebuild and renew both.

As I write this I recall the story of Saint Francis’ conversion experience in the church of San Damiano outside of Assisi. Francis, worn out from the experience of being a prisoner of war, is in some way trying to figure out what to do with his life.

As he prays before the Byzantine style crucifix he hears a voice: “Francis, rebuild my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruins.”

Francis proceeded to do just that. This dandy becomes a worker, hauling stones and rebuilding the church with his own hands. When I visited Assisi in 1973 I met a English-speaking Franciscan at the Church of San Damiano who said that Francis was doing exactly what he needed to do at that time. Francis was emotionally fragile and need physical work to pull him out of his depression and help him figure out where God was calling him. That seems such a good interpretation of the event.

A little bit later that day I went up to the grand basilica of Saint Francis and heard a Conventual Franciscan priest explained to a crowd of pilgrims that Francis got it wrong, at first. The call was to rebuild the church spiritually. At that moment – and even now – I think that priest got it wrong. Francis needed the physical labor at that time in his life.

And so, the work of rebuilding the church is two-fold – spiritual and material. We are body and soul. We are called to grow by loving God and loving our neighbor.

As Teodoso reminded us at that celebration, it’s two-fold – praying to God and working at it. The phrase used here is “a Dios rogando y con el mazo dando” – pray to God and work like mad – literally, hit it with a mallet.

1 comment:

phoenixwoman said...

Beautiful story, Brother John.

--Charles