Along with my family, I and a few other catholic families from the local parishes just returned from San Lucas Toliman, a small town in Guatemala, located within a tropical forest, high in the mountains. We spent 15 days working with the Mayan people through a Catholic Mission. This was the fourth visit to the mission for my wife, kids, and me; but it was the first visit for the families who joined us. After a few days of settling in, and the fears of existing in a 3rd world country settled in the minds and hearts of the families who joined us, we began to clearly see God’s hand in the lives of the people around us.
Each day began with a new adventure and project, often traveling to a new village and meeting new people.
As we worked, at times pounding large boulders with hammers to make gravel that would be used in building with cement,
or preparing soil for the planting of seedlings,
later to be transplanted to prevent further mudslides that had devastated so many villages, we were blessed with working side by side with the local people. What I enjoyed the most about the trip was getting to know the local people as we worked with them.
Whether it was Elde, a construction worker, who was 26 years old, had two children, and a wife who ran away from them. He explained that he made 30 Quetzales a day, about $4 and used every cent to provide food and shelter for his children and his mother who also lived with them. Even thought life was difficult, he still possessed a smile on his face and with such kindness corrected our mistakes.
Or Chona who described that at a young age, her husband, working for the mission was mistaken for a supporter of the anti-military gorillas, vanished from her and her children’s lives without notice. She never remarried, and it took 20 years for her to finally find out that her husband was indeed murdered by the military. Yet, there were to be no repercussions.
Almost everyone we met had a story that represented such pain and horror.... We began to see and hear tragedy like never before, and were able to put a face with each story.
As we walked the street, returning to the mission after a hard day of physical work, we witnessed an older lady dressed in ragged woven traditional clothing, down on her knees gathering one by one, corn kernels that must have fallen off a cart and nestled into the cracks of the cobble stone road. It was at that moment, I could see in the eyes of the kids and adults of our group that they realized starvation and desperation still existed.
But what was so remarkable was that as we visited and communicated with different people from the communities, not one conversation finished without some mention of God, their thanfulness, and how he was the center of their lives.....
He wasn’t just a concept, or an invisible being...... They knew him, recognized him, and experienced him each and every day. I couldn’t help but see the contrast, the spiritual contrast with our lives here in America and what I was experiencing in the small towns and villages of Guatemala.
Maybe that is why I keep coming back, year after year. We have so much, and they have so little, yet they possessed such great inner happiness and joy..... such generosity, such peace. I couldn’t help but think about God’s grace, and how we either accept it.... or just let it float on by like the clouds in the sky, unnoticed. I couldn’t help but think about our connection and relationship with God.
Today’s Gospel states:
“You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.... they have closed their eyes.....”
Something unexpected happened while we were in San Lucas on the Feast of Corpus Christi. I have heard of the magnificent processions in Central America where the streets are carpeted with beautiful, elaborate and colorful carpets. The carpets are created with colored saw dust, tropical flowers, and fruit. The monstrance containing Jesus if then carried for miles over these beautiful and elaborate works of art.
I had always wanted to see one of these processions in person. Well, not only did my dream come true, but I was asked by the Local Pastor, Father Fito, to carry Jesus, and lead the procession.
I, followed by the whole town, walked for 2 hours upon the most beautiful carpets I had ever seen. The local town people had been preparing for weeks for this procession and awoke at 3 in the morning to begin building the carpets. There were hundreds, if not a thousand people working together to prepare the road for Jesus. As we walked, we would often stop by a home that had prepared a resting place for Jesus.
As we entered the home to place the monstrance on a living room alter, the people in the home, just as we entered the room, would immediately fall to their knees and weep. As I witnessed their humble and pure faith.....The feeling was overpowering. They knew who had just entered their home. They recognized Jesus in the Eucharist.... They recognized Him, because they knew Him. We would then pray together, and then bless the home, and then each family member would embrace Jesus with a kiss.
The whole town patiently waited outside the home for this personal encounter, then we would return to the streets and the journey would continue. As we stopped at a variety of homes along the way, the same response occurred. The people inside the home would immediately drop to their knees and weep as Jesus entered, not tears of sadness, but joy and humility.
As we walked the streets of San Lucas, it was Jesus leading the way.... I cannot adequately describe the feelings and emotions that I experienced.... It was beyond words.
I know that many of you do not have easy lives, and many of you have endured tragedy as well. But the experience in San Lucas has shown me that it is through trials, tragedy, and discomfort that God’s hand and his grace can often be seen most clearly. And for you who can see Him, the gospel says: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Amen I say to you, may prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Let us take a moment and reflect upon our own lives.
Let us think about the spiritual soil within us, the place prepared for and cultivated for Christ to grow within us. What is our relationship with God? Do we talk to him everyday? Are we able to experience Christ in the people around us? Can we see how he is using all the situations of our lives to grow closer to him?
We must ask ourselves, What are we doing to cultivate the spiritual soil within us, the soil that can accept God’s grace, his spiritual seeds, and that will allow deep roots to grow within us.
The seed sown on rich soil in the one who hears the word of God, understands it, and who bears fruit.
As I was leaving Guatemala, Father Fito explained that the Guatemalan people live in a reality different that ours. And that even if we wanted to, we cannot live in their reality, and they cannot live in ours..... that is just a fact!
But what is our reality...... Does it contain Jesus within the center..... and do we see him, hear him, and experience him everyday? Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear....... We might not be searching the cracks in the road for spilt corn..... But are we searching for God, His Voice, and His Grace in the people and circumstances around us?
Honestly.... We must ask ourselves..... are we truly looking for God in the people and circumstances of our lives..... or are we allowing him to just float on by, unnoticed, like the clouds in the sky....