Sunday, July 08, 2012

The evangelizing potential of the poor

In the final document of the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979, they wrote in paragraph 1147:

Commitment to the poor and oppressed and the rise of Base Communities have helped the Church discover the evangelizing potential of the poor. For the poor challenge the Church constantly, summoning it to conversion; and many of the poor incarnate in their lives the evangelical values of solidarity, service, simplicity, and openness to accepting the gift of God.

I have experienced this in my life with the poor here in Honduras – and in other places.

How many times have I marveled at the deep love many people in the countryside have for the Bible and for the Eucharist.

Many people I believe have learned to read by reading the Bible. Many cite scripture chapter and verse and occasionally I have heard an enlightening reading of the text.

They don’t have Eucharist often, but now that some towns have the Blessed Sacrament in their churches people come for visits as well as for a weekly Holy Hour.

I have been showered often by their generosity and seldom leave a village hungry. In fact today I left Buena Vista Concepción with two huge bunches of datiles, tiny bananas. I ended up sharing one with the sisters down the street and part of the second with some neighbors.

un racimo de datiles

 I have also been amazed at the commitment of many pastoral workers who will get up at 4 am for a 9 am meeting, walk an hour and a half to catch a bus. Others will devote hours to the work of evangelization in their villages.

Today’s lectionary readings, though, have opened up a new way of thinking about all this.

Today I took the Eucharist out to the community of Buena Vista Concepción, way up in the mountains, to share at their Sunday Celebration of the Word.

When I go to a community I’m often asked to do the reflection on the scriptures and so I prepared. But this time Carlos who led the celebration led the reflection and did a nice job.

Carlos preaching

The readings are about being a prophet, called by God.

Carlos noted that we are called to be prophets, missionaries, announcing and denouncing, as Ezekiel was called (Ezekiel 2: 2-5). God told Ezekiel that he was facing a rebellious people with hardened hearts. But he still had the mission – as we all do.

The Gospel (Mark 6: 1-6) tells of Jesus’ rejection in his home town. “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” When Carlos asked for other reflections, Ángel noted that sometimes people aren’t accepted for roles in the church because the person is “the son of a drunk or a womanizer.” Well said.

I though would add that it’s more complicated. I like what Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote on this Gospel in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year:

To the evangelical testimony of the poor of our country, the spiritual children of those who did not believe in Jesus will now say, “Are not these peasants who barely know how to speak Spanish? What can people who spend their lives complaining, not working, tell us?”

I’ve written about this before. There was the former president of the Honduran Congress who called the people the Spanish equivalent of “hillbillies.” And just this week I found myself in conflict with a professional at a workshop who was insisting that the group we were analyzing were full of fear when the two people who work with them painted an image of a very organized and active community.

People come with their prejudices, especially when meeting the poor – at time idealizing them, but most often treating them like people who have no initiative.

That’s what happened to Jesus in his home town.

And so the poor face obstacles from outside – people who don’t want to change their lives and people who don’t want to listen to someone who they know with all their faults or who doesn’t have enough “education.”

But the second reading (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) reveals what I think is another important message for the work of evangelization. Paul speaks of the thorn he has, his weakness, his sinfulness.  How often we think of our unworthiness, our inadequacy? And so we don’t respond or give excuses – I’m not good enough.

But Paul’s message is that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” God works through people who are not perfect.

Carlos in Buena Vista referred to this, but I think it deserves a lot more reflection. How often might people who are poor think that they are incapable of doing something – whether in the church or in a community project?  We’re not educated enough, they might say. But often this feeling is rooted in the dominating culture and reinforces a low self-esteem.

And so, what I consider extremely important in my ministry is to help the people I work with – mostly poor and poorly educated – discover the gifts they have been given by God.  

I think this is what the Lord tells Paul – and us:

My grace is enough for you; my strength is made perfect in your weakness.

No comments: