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

Finally, I found a community that wants to celebrate Candlemas. In the prayers that are included for the feast of Presentation in the Roman Missal there is the rite of blessing of candles. This is an ancient tradition that finds its source in Sacred Scripture when blessed Simeon declares our Lord to be the “light for the nations” when the Christ Child is officially presented in the Temple. Now, I found this community in the most unlikely of spots and it wasn’t all ‘according to the book’. La Peña is a three hours drive from the rectory and I arrived for my normally scheduled monthly Mass on February 1. The feast of the Presentation is on the 2nd of February (Ground Hog Day for us Americans), but I found my community, one of the many that time seemingly forgot, in the throws of a great feast. They explained to me that it was the Day of the Candle. Then I began to understand the confused logic. Traditionally, Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after Christmas. For most of our parishioners, one celebrates the day of the Lord’s birth, December 24th with a Christmas Eve dinner. So naturally, it’s a day early. But, that wasn’t the only irregularity.

After Mass, a few of the men who had kept vigil outside of church with their drums and home made rum lead the children from the home of the family throwing the party. The procession began from the family altar of the house that was covered in saints’ images, candles to be blessed and a variety of food placed in bowls. These altars are not unusual, but the food on it was a new for me. These men, with children in tow, walked ceremoniously to the other side of the yard where a stream flowed. I approached to investigate, but my presence seemed to be slowing up the works. So, I stepped back to look from a distance (I didn’t want to miss anything). One of the authentically pious, but simple women of the church, sensed my concern and assured me that this was a harmless plea for a heavenly blessing, but what I witnessed was some type of oblation to a stream. It is a neglected, but still smoldering Christianity that I serve here. It is full of frustrations and surprises.

Speaking of surprises, it has been reported that in the town of Costanza (not in my parish, but I believe in the diocese) this week had snow that stuck to the ground.


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