The Missions: San Francisco and San José

Unless the mission is oriented by charity, that is, unless it springs from a profound act of divine love, it risks being reduced to mere philanthropic and social activity...Consequently, being missionaries means loving God with all one's heart, even to the point, if necessary, of dying for him. - Pope Benedict XVI

I celebrated my 11th anniversary as a priest with a few firsts. I trekked into Layamaya solo. This is a village reachable with 3 ½ hours mule ride after a 40 minute motorcycle ride. I don’t think there are many folks using the internet who do such things for a living. Along with my anniversary, I am celebrating that the village was in great attendance at the Mass. They will now be in my regular monthly line up. There, I had the unique experience to drink fresh milk from a cow that morning. It’s hard to believe that a grandson of a dairyman would never have had such an experience till the age of 38. What might even be more unbelievable to you is that this is not a regular occurrence here. Interestingly, it is a rare opportunity. There aren’t many dairy cows and the people seem content with powdered milk. It certainly is easier to transport, store and keep from spoiling. Nevertheless, these were some enjoyable firsts for my first and tenth.

Just showing off the parish

Ever ignorant of the cultural differences that separate me from the folks God has given me to attend, from our dinner table I handed our cook a small plate with a piece of sliced bread and asked her to toast it for me. She dutifully returned me the bread with a warning that the plate was hot; I guess I didn’t specify which I wanted toasted.

Last month, I was tending to a village reachable via mule. At the beginning of our return journey, my mule was well rested and full of energy and wanted to show the other mule who would be first in line. This started a race. When our exasperated mule driver finally reigned in the frisky beasts, he expressed his frustration by asking the one mounted on the errant mule, “Father, don’t you know how to ride a mule?” It must have seemed the height of irony for the man who cares for the parish mules to realize that the “owner” is completely green in the saddle. When he apologized later for being somewhat vexed he and his friend had a good laugh when I explained to them that nobody where I’m from has an animal for transportation.

Whoever coined the phrase, “I’m a lover not a fighter,” was an idiot. Interestingly, it is a phrase often employed to justify bestial behavior for the libertine, but in reality it has nothing to do with the animal kingdom. In this realm, those who can’t fight aren’t “making love”. Thus was the fate of our beloved feline Gaebo who expired today. He certainly used up his nine lives, but because he had one of nature’s more gentle spirits he wasn’t very successful in scoring a mate, which apparently, he gave his life trying to do. Simply, he had a wound that needed stitching and there is no veterinarian to be found. I did have the pleasure of picking maggots from his wound in his last days, but lamentably, the medicine applied to kill the worms took him too. I can’t say he’s with the Lord, but he was named after the Archangel because he came to us the day that marks our Lord’s arrival at the Annunciation and he left us on the feast celebrating the Lord’s departure. If not a swallow falls from the sky without our Heavenly Father knowing it, I can only say that divine interest in Gaebo seems apparent.

The army has been unusually active this week. There are multiple roadblocks between Pedro Santana and Bánica. Beyond just keeping the troops occupied, they seemed to be checking to see that papers are in order: that Haitians are here legally, that vehicles are licensed, etc. Interestingly, when I was asked to stop. The young soldier asked for my vehicle papers. Not that I had them to give. My philosophy is that when they give me a road, I’ll give them the papers. Well, a young passerby excitedly spoke up, “That’s the padre, he’s my jefe!” I didn’t even recognize the young man. But there I was, some exalted figure in his eyes. It is really difficult for my American mind to get a grasp on the Dominican understanding of the Church. They aren’t big in attending church, nor in participating in the sacramental life. But, seemingly, in some patriotic way they consider themselves Catholic. I have experienced cultural Catholicism before, but this has a new dimension then from a Boston Irish or Philly Italian Catholic. Here, the military does not have the right to vote, nor do the police. There is a fear based on history of a coup or of military dictatorships. They see the Church as the third institution. There is the civilian government, the military, and then, the Church. In their minds it’s the Church you can trust. So, while your politician is corrupt (or at least, extremely partisan) and your military could turn on you, at least you have the Church, the voice that might keep the others in check. While this doesn’t do much for promoting a personal relationship with one’s Lord and Savior, and I’m not sure how it’s helping souls be saved, it is the reason why the Cardinal is in the paper everyday. And, it is the reason why I may never see a soul cross the threshold of the church but I’m his padre: a mascot at least and a defender against tyranny ideally. Personally, I’m not ready to follow the footsteps of Pope St. Leo the Great and confront Attila the Hun outside the gates of Rome, but I must admit it’s nice to borrow his social status.

With our spring rain comes a surge in grass growth. I’m employing a new, yet ancient, method of grass cutting. So far, I’d rather do it the 18th century method and pay a man with a machete to take care of this.

Sorry for the lack of blogs for those few of you who still might tune in. (I don’t even think my mother reads this.) We are without the internet in the rectory. Thus, there are added complications to making a regular post.

Yesterday, I awoke to a very rare phenomenon in these parts; rain. Not that rain is rare this time of year, but it is the waking up with it that is very unusual. It seemed to have rained the whole nightlong. To add to this remarkable experience I drove to the capital the next day. It was consistently cloudy and rainy the length of the trip. What a comfortable feeling it was. I guess I didn’t realize how tedious bright sunny tropical days can be without the regular full day of rain that we take for granted in Virginia.


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