I spent July in a small missionary town in Ecuador with an Irish missionary priest Fr. Martin. One of the things he does regularly is visit one of the 97 little surrounding villages that are part of the parish. Yeah, it’s a lot, but somehow he gets to them one by one, little by little.
One Sunday we drove about an hour to reach a small village in one of the rural flat areas. We drove up to the little church, and rang the church bells, I mean beeped the horn a few times, and then spent some time in catechesis with the kids. Then, we had the Mass.
Well, after the Mass, I was standing near one of the benches in the back when two children came walking by. I said to them in my best Spanish, “Hello, I am learning Spanish. Can you teach me a word?” So they smiled, and the boy asked, “For what?” I pointed to the bench next to me.
So I sat down in the bench and said, “I sit on the bench.”
So he smiled again and answered, “I sit on the bench and listen to the Word of God.”
Then I told him, “Oh, the Word of God, that is the treasure of my heart.”
That began a little discussion, opening our hearts. A crowd was now starting to gather around us. The birds were singing, and there was this tangible feeling of anticipation. I told the kids how happy I was to be with them, that it was a great privilege for me to be with them.
Then I remembered that I had two rosary pamphlets, one in English and one in Spanish, each with the same picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the cover. So I held one over my heart so the picture of Mary was right over my heart, and showed them, “This is who is in my heart.” Then I unfolded the pamphlet to reveal all the mysteries of the rosary, little colorful picture with scripture texts. “When this is opened, Mary’s heart is opened for you.” I gave them the two pamphlets. “Now you have the key to Mary’s heart. And you can share them and teach other English.”
Everyone smiled and laughed, it was such a novelty to see a gringo, an American, to hear him speak and interact. I told the kids very distinctly and directly how happy I was to be with them, and what a privilege it was to be with them. They took off to an older woman outside to show her their new goods.
A few minutes later, Padre Martin came to me and saked, “Do you see those two children over there? The boy holding the bag and the girl with the red pants?”
“Yeah. Actually, I was just talking with them.”
“I have a story about them that I’ll share with you afterwards.”
So a little later when we were driving away, Padre Martin told me about the children.
“They’re bright, very good kids. The older woman is their grandmother. One day I was walking with the girl and she was holding my hand and said to me, ‘I have no money and no Daddy.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘My Daddy murdered my Mommy and left us.'” Six months later, after they moved in with their grandmother, her husband left them.
The St. James Society of missionary priests, Padre Martin’s society, has a monthly newsletter that they publish. It goes all around the world. Well, if you look at the front page of this month’s newsletter, you will see, under a very large banner that says, “Living the Gospel”, a picture of Padre Martin. On his right and on his left are two children. With big smiles. In the midst of all the tragedy, having experienced murder and abandonment in their own home, between their own parents, living practically isolated in the middle of nowhere in one of the poorer parts of the world, God has sent someone to let them know how important they are, how privileged He is to be with them. To put smiles on their faces, to lift them up, and put them front and center and make them world famous in His Kingdom. All the suffering and tragedy, it was really a preparation, a preparation to know God’s mercy.
Jesus in today’s Gospel says that in His Kingdom “to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mk 10:40) On Calvary, there were two people suffering crucifixion, two men who were experiencing the ultimate rock bottom. Their difficult life was a preparation. Because right in the middle was the one that God sent, to lift them up, to let them know how important they are, how privileged He is to be with them. To put them front and center and make them world famous, in His Kingdom. All their suffering and tragedy, it was a preparation to know God’s mercy.
Jesus’ mission continues. Whatever our situation, whatever the tragedy or suffering we endure, at some point He will come. It may be earlier or later, it may not be until the very end. But at some point, He will come. He will leave everyone and everything behind, He will come a long distance and suffer through a lot in order to reach you. In the midst of the suffering He will come to let you know how important you are, how privileged He is to be with you. To put a smile on your face, to lift you up, and put you front and center and make you world famous in His Kingdom.
All our suffering and tragedy in life, it’s really a preparation for His mission.
A preparation to know His mercy.
A Blessed World Mission Sunday