Thursday, February 15, 2018

Choose life in the face of death

This morning, sitting in my prayer room, my quiet was broken by the song of two yellow chorchas, orioles, at the window. Their beauty astounded me, since they have been gone since last year. I wasn't able to capture a photo of them but here's a photo of a small bird, the size of a chickadee,  that I saw this morning. 

As I continued to pray, my reading on the scripture of the day focused on the text from Deuteronomy 30: 15-20:

I set before you: life and blessing, death and curse…. Choose life.

I would be preaching later and focused on the two paths before us – life and blessing, death and curse. I had no idea that I would see glimpses of both.

Padre German had invited me to accompany him in visits to the sick as well as two Masses. He asked me to preach at both.

I arrived at the parish about 8:30 am and we went in search of three sick persons who were in need of a pastoral visit. We only visited one – since the other two had gone to the hospital, because of the severity of their situation.

We visited a very thin elderly woman, confined to her bed, and after prayer, she received communion. The house was simple and the woman was being cared for by a relative.

We then returned to the parish where we met a couple with their six-month old child who was very ill. I had met the couple and the child on Sunday at Mass and noted the yellowish complexion of the child. The child had been in a San Pedro hospital for a few weeks but was still ill. In fact, the parents were so worried that they brought the child to be baptized.

Padre German baptized and confirmed the baby in a moving ceremony, where the child was laid on a mattress to ease the pain in his body. Tears flowed as the child was welcomed into the community of faith.

I found out later that the mother had had a medical condition during pregnancy which could have been cured but the medicine was unavailable in Honduras. The result is a gravely ill child whose survival is in question.

After the baptism we headed to Plan de Naranjo, one of the most remote aldeas (villages) in the parish. The last part of the trip was treacherous as Padre maneuvered the pick-up on roads – If you can call them that – with deep ruts and potholes, some at least a foot deep. I had visited the community in December 2015 and it had been a poor road but this was many times worse – the result of the lack of attention by the municipal authorities.

There was a small group at Mass. After Mass we headed to the nearby village of Joyas Galanas. But on the way we stopped at the site of the house of one of the women at Mass. The house had collapsed last November, with her inside, during one of the intense rainy weeks. It may have been a landslide but there also seems to have been a geological fault that went for at least a kilometer, down the hill and up the next hill. It was a devastating sight.

Her family is rebuilding at another nearby site, further down the road. When we approached the house, her father-in-law came out to greet us from the house just up from theirs. One of his eyes was gone and the empty socket was surrounded by flesh and scabs. He had lost the eye when working in a coffee field. He had not gone to a hospital – because he was afraid to go there. I think that he was afraid that he would not get out of there alive. Padre talked with him and we hope to take him to the hospital sometime soon so as to prevent gangrene and diminish the terrible condition of the wound and his skin. Often people don’t trust the public health facilities. This is not unrealistic, since they are often poorly staffed and have little or no medicine, because of government neglect.

Then we headed to Joyas Galanas – gratefully the road was a little better than the roads closer to Plan de Naranjo.

Almost no one knew about the Mass. A message had been sent but not delivered. So we went to see an eighty-nine year old man who was gravely ill.

He lived with his common law wife, a daughter, and a grandson in a small dirt-floor shack with plastic table cloths lining the wooden walls to try to keep out the cold air.

Padre prayed and anointed him. The man was hardly responsive when Padre asked him if he repented his sins.

We soon learned that his wife and he were not married in the church. He had been widowed and then he and his current wife moved in together and had several children. Three survived – nine others died, some from measles! Padre questioned the woman if she wanted to get married to him. She was somewhat hesitant – perhaps thinking that she couldn’t because he had been married beforehand. However, Padre explained that this was not a problem since the previous wife died.

Padre then questioned them if they loved each other and wanted to be married. It was touching listening to them respond; I could see their love for each other. Padre then heard the woman’s confession and the wedding began.

She sat on the side of the bed as they were questioned about their commitment. They even exchanged rings. She took off one of her rings and put it on his little finger (since the ring finger joint was so inflamed that the ring didn’t fit.)

I stood there with one of the daughters and her son. I explained to the grandchild how significant this was – his grandparents were getting married. Yesterday was the day of friendship (as they call St. Valentine’s Day here), but today is the day of love, expressed in the commitment of his grandparents. He got it. His mother, who seemed rather timid, stood there, watching her parents’ marriage, visibly moved. Tears welled up in me as I witnessed their marriage vows.

We left and then returned to Dulce Nombre. There we stopped to greet a ninety-one year old man who had four heart attacks and had spent time in a San Pedro hospital. He was incredibly lucid, sitting on the porch of his rather nice house.

Then I came home.

I needed some time to process the day and went to the Holy Hour (but tuned out the prayers being said). I prayed evening prayer and reviewed the day.

When I entered, one young man in his late teens was sitting in one of the last pews. By the time the Holy Hour ended, there were five young men in their teens in the last pews, praying.

Life and blessing, death and curse.

I saw life – the love between the old couple, the love of the couple with their gravely ill child, people caring for ill and aged persons.

I was the blessing, most of all in the six sacraments what were celebrated today.

I saw death – gravely ill people, including an infant and two aged persons.

I saw the curse of neglected villages, poor medical assistance, and more.

But I also saw people choosing life – from the warm care that Padre German showed to the ill to the people who were caring for those who were ill.

 In this situation, where death and curse seem to abound, I want to choose life.

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