I have a longer post I hope to be able to put up soon when I have more internet access, but for now here’s a story … I am leaving Puerto Quito today to meet up with Padre Julian – it’s tough to leave, but it has been a great blessing!
In my first week or so here in Ecuador, Padre Finbarr took me to visit a little religious community called Agnus Dei at the outskirts of the city of Santo Domingo. They are a group of about six German lay people who live together, I suppose in some form of the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, living very simply and poorly – I think without electricity – in a sort of monastic life. They make and sell bread and provide hospitality for retreats. They have decent-sized grounds surrounded by trees and foliage. Their house and the hermitages are all hand made, as well as the chapel. Like the rest of the construction, the chapel is like a hut, well built and groomed and cared for. It is very simple with only candlelight inside, with a number of icons on the walls, a simple but beautiful altar, a number of simple wooden benches and kneelers, and a monstrance built into the back wall in the shape of a triangle for the Trinity. (The host is visible through a hole in the middle of the triangle, and when they “close” the monstrance, the hole is covered up – it’s like an eye closing!) They have begun perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, and you can always hear the sound of a nearby river and waterfall, as well as birds singing. You have to take off your shoes to enter, because it is a holy place. It’s very moving, the whole grounds are.
To reach this place, you have to go to the outskirts of the city, and then take a little side dirt road. After about 20 minutes of rough driving, you reach the entry gates – at the end of the road.
Last week, Padre Finbarr asked if I wanted to accompany him to a first Holy Communion at this community. He mentioned something about the parents of a local young woman with a disability wanting first Holy Communion for their daughter and they needed a priest for it, because the local diocesan priest refused to do it. The family wasn’t sure if the girl would live that much longer. So I said, “Sure.” Gabriel and Eduardo also came along. Gabriel is an 18-year-old young man from England who is hoping to stay for a year with Msgr Finbarr to find some perspective on direction for his college journey. Eduardo is a young man with a mental disability who stays with Padre Finbarr. So, off we went.
So we got to the dirt road and started down it, as the sun was low in the sky. After bouncing around in the truck for a while, we finally reached the end of the road, and there were a few members of the community, a husband and wife, waiting for us. We got out and after greetings and a short conversation, we headed off to the chapel. As we passed by the main house, I noticed a whole bunch of people seated outside. I asked Padre Finbarr what was said, because I didn’t catch it all. He said, “Apparently, others heard about the Holy Communion, and there are now a total of 5, plus a baptism.” Great, I thought.
We walked along, through the trellisway that leads to the chapel, silence all around us except the sound of the river nearby and birds. We got to the chapel, and a great peace and sense of the presence of God filled my soul, and I think the others’ too. It was sort of like a deep, deep peace and love, mixed with an acute anticipation that a great act of God was imminent. Padre Finbarr smiled and said to me, “Maybe you could join this community?” I remember thinking to myself, this is what heaven is like.
So we took off our shoes and went inside to find a few members of the community in Eucharistic Adoration, and by now the sun was setting. Just silence and candlelight in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And anticipation. A few other people came in as well, and then the little chapel began to quietly fill up, so much that I took a floor seat near the back to stay out of the way. Others were taking floor seats too, until people were standing in the doorway.
And then I looked and there was a young man all dressed to the nines in white being wheeled in in a wheelchair, and after him came one after another of disabled children and youth, some carried, some walking with the help of family, some physically disabled, some with more mental disabilities, all dressed in the most beautiful white dresses and suits. Lastly, a woman came in carrying a young girl with a long white dress and stockings and shoes, a young girl who had the same type of paralyzing brain damage as my sister Lisa, who had lived for 27 years until 1994, and who, I am convinced, is responsible for the graces I received to come to Jesus some years after her death. This type of brain damage limits the growth and maturing of the person, physically and mentally, so that the person doesn’t have direct conscious verbal communication. They are completely dependent.
The whole scene moved me to tears, and I wondered if I would be able to hold it together for the whole liturgy as the Mass began. And the community choir began to sing. They sing a particular polyphony that sounds literally like angels singing in Spanish. The beauty of it was just striking, and it just made me think again that I wouldn’t hold it all together… Well, after the Gospel, Padre Finbarr took out the baptismal rite, and a young girl in beautiful white made her way up to the baptismal font with the help of family. He performed the sacrament, and as soon as he was done saying, ” … and the Holy Spirit,” the little choir of angels sang the most beautiful harmonic baptismal song in joy, as now only candlelight lit up this tiny hut of a chapel, and time stood still for us with Jesus and this little girl, in the middle of a poor, hidden nowhere in the world. If it didn’t start before then, that’s when the waterworks started for me.
So, the Mass continued. I noticed the girl who was like my sister, held at the front by who I thought must be her mother. At times she strained and fussed, and her mother tried different positions to keep her comfortable. I was thinking impatiently to myself, move the Mass along, as if that would help … Finally, at the time for communion, I could make out, in between fighting back tears, a procession. Now came forward one by one each of the disabled: in a wheel chair, or moving along assisted by family, or carried, dressed in first-class white suits and dresses, to receive their very first Holy Communion with their family, while the angel voices were singing a communion song from heaven.
Finally, the last was the girl at the front, the one like my sister Lisa, held by her mother. I noticed that she handed off her daughter to another woman, and they made their short way to Padre Finbarr along with another man. I thought then, which is the mother? But this was the last one, and inside I just had the instinct that something most special was happening. As they approached Padre and he began to break the bread – it becomes a bit of an ordeal to administer the Host when swallowing is an issue – the woman who had handed off the girl began to sob uncontrollably, and then I knew she was her mother. It was then that I couldn’t keep it together and so I joined her in water and spirit. I don’t think there were many dry eyes at that moment in that little hut of a chapel. And then when the couple turned back around and handed off the girl to her mother, a whole bunch of children came out of nowhere – it seemed to me – and surrounded them, some with cameras going, as this crying mother held her daughter in beautiful white, who had just received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. The priest was wrapping everything up. And the angels were singing as time stood still in this poor little hut of a chapel.
You see, this was the girl. This nine-year girl named Juliana, who had led 5 others to Jesus with her, had had 4 heart attacks in her short life, and after the recent one, doctors did not know if she would live another week. This mother just had the privilege of offering her to Jesus before that death came.
After everything wrapped up, I met up with Gabriel outside. He said to me quietly, “I can understand why someone might want to live here.” I said to him, “Gabriel, you are very blessed. Only a handful of people in the world will ever experience anything like that.”
We had gone to the end of the road.
We were in heaven.
And the angels were singing.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,
“Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and give him the glory,
For the marriage of the Lamb has come,
And his Bride has made herself ready;
It was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” –
For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Rev 19:6-9)