- Written by Jim Peterson
The day started with the normal wake-up bell, Adoration, morning prayers and Mass. The homily today was given by Padre Jose Maria, who has only been a priest since late April. You would never know that. He's a beautiiful homilist. Brother Luis Gerardo provided a loose translation. The gospel was about Jesus driving out the demons from two demoniacs, and the demons go into the swine who go down the steep bank and drown. But the townspeople asked Jesus to leave. Padre Jose Maria focused on how the people asked Jesus to leave because of their fear. He then talked at length about how our fears can cripple us, and it's when we are afraid that we most need to ask Jesus to come into our hearts. That is not the time to send him away as the people in the gospel did. He got on such a roll that Padre Martín finally had to interrupt him due to time constraints. It was a remarkable homily spoken from his heart.
There tends to be random visitors for lunch, and today we had a language professor from the seminary and another woman who was very nice. After the 3:00 Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary, I sat down with Brother Juan Pablo (John Paul) for his biographical interview. With Brother Luis Gerardo as my interpreter we went through several questions. Brother Juan Pablo is one of the more quiet brothers, but he opened up quite a bit for me. He is from Peru and felt his calling for the priesthood when he was 14 years old. He initially started out as a Diocesan candidate, but realized early on that he wanted to be in a religious community. He began searching for a community when two ladies brought him to a service being said by Padre Martín. After meeting him, it took 10 months to sort out the paperwork for the transfer. This was in 2006. He is now in his third year of Theology. Read the full biography here.
Becoming a priest is not an overnight process in Siervos de la Divina Misericordia. New applicants spend 6 months as an Aspirant (where you live with the community to discern) wearing normal clothes. Then you spend one year as a Postulant, but instead of a habit you wear black pants and a black shirt. Then you become a Novice, where you get to wear the habit, and this lasts two years. Finally, you enter the seminary where there is one year of general studies, two years of philosophy, and then four years of theology. Then you become a Deacon for a year before finally being ordained as a Priest. I think you get a sense of why so many try to ignore the calling.
After dinner Brother Agustín asked me if I wanted to go with him and Brother Pio to give food to a poor family the community often helps. The family lives in a few spare rooms of a school, what appears to be part of their compensation for working at the school. I'm finding it hard to describe the rooms. They reminded me of extra storage space you'd throw junk in with barely enough protection to say it's out of the weather. And this houses the older parents, a daughter with two small children, and two older sons. I've never seen more abject poverty. When we went into the residence the older daughter was breastfeeding her baby girl (very openly I might add) but didn't flinch. The mother was very sweet and extremely grateful for the food. The Brothers were conversing in Spanish, appearing to me to be sort of checking up on how things were going. The husband and an older son were actually working on remodeling a room in the school, what looked to be some sort of laboratory I think. It was almost 9:00 pm, and the mother said they would work until 10:00.
Driving around this area reminds me of the poor areas I saw in Vietnam or Thailand or Korea or Turkey. I remember thinking at some point during my Air Force days that they all seemed to blend together -- all with poor living conditions and crazy driving. With few exceptions it was always seen from a distance. This was not. During his recent visit to San Antonio Padre Martín remarked that so many times when he sees such poverty he just can't say no -- even though he has no idea how he can make it work. God asks him (quite often) to give until it hurts. And he does. I think in America there are very few who can bring themselves to do that. Without seeing it first-hand, I know most of us find it very difficult to comprehend how impoverished much of the world remains and how truly blessed we are in America. My suggestion is to find something, even if you start small, and begin to make a difference. It really does help.
- Written by Jim Peterson
The Morning Wake-up
I should start by mentioning that I'm staying in the convent with the brothers. The room is very small and simple with a single bed and little furniture, but it does have a private bathroom. In that respect, it's better than the pilot trailers back in Kuwait where we had to walk across open areas to the shower trailer. So it's just fine for me. The day begins with one of the Brothers ringing a bell at 5:30 am to wake everyone up for the 6:00 am holy hour. This morning it was Brother Agustín, who was very happy to poke his head in my room since he couldn't meet me at the airport. He was followed by Padre Martín who just wanted to make sure I was doing okay. "Are you tired?" he asked. "Of course I'm tired," I laughingly responded. "Would you like to sleep in until 6:30?" he offered. Knowing I'd never go back to sleep, I told him I'd be just fine.
I made my way to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for Adoration. I was not the last one there, and the brothers happily came up to welcome me with big hugs as they trickled in. Before the daily Mass starts, the brothers conduct their morning prayer as the first part of the Liturgy of the Hours. It was all in Spanish, so I understood very little. The Mass, however, was very easy to follow, and Brother Luis Gerardo offered a loose translation of Padre Pedro's homily. The gospel was about Jesus calming the sea, and Padre Pedro challenged the Brothers to not despair during troubled times, but rely on and trust in Jesus to calm things down.
At the end of the Mass, Padre Martín began telling the brothers some things Jesus was telling him in his heart. He said that Jesus asked him to console Him. When Padre asked how he could do this, Jesus simply said, "Console me by uniting your will to mine." It seemed odd at first that Jesus, being God, would need to be consoled, but when you consider the state of society today it makes sense that He is heartbroken by what he sees. Once the Mass is complete all the Brothers go around and individually hug and wish each other a good morning. What a great start to the day.
Prayers and Soccer!
After a very European breakfast of bread, cheese, and coffee, the priests and many of the brothers left for missionary work or seminary school. The rest of us gathered at 9:00 am for more prayer. This prayer time consisted of fairly structured orations of various types. They were kind enough to ask me to state my intentions (which were translated by Brother Luis Gerardo) and they offered three Haily Mary's for them. The remaining time until 10:00 was left for private meditation.
In the late morning Brother Domingo put the Argentina-Switzerland World Cup match on the tiny TV, and shortly after that Madre Teresa and her postulant Maria arrived. The house was divided for this game. Brother Domingo was firmly rooting for Argentina, wearing his Argentina shirt and yelling at the TV much the same way I am while watching an Auburn football game. The Swiss faction was led by Madre Teresa. This was not something I expected to see. Madre Teresa, dressed in a full habit, standing in front of the TV yelling, "Swiss! Swiss! Swiss!" and clapping her hands. They take this futbol stuff very seriously. Madre Teresa teasingly changed her allegiance when someone mentioned that Pope Francis would be rooting for Argentina. It caused a great deal of laughter. In the end Brother Domingo was happy with the win for Argentina. Later during the USA match I tried to match their earlier fervor, but I'm afraid it was rather transparent that my heart is just not in cheering for soccer. Still, they seemed to be sorry for me for the USA loss.
After a very robust, humor-filled lunch, I sat with Madre Teresa and we spent time learning about each other. I showed her many family pictures and described my life in the Air Force and my travels. Since Brother Luis Gerardo was not around, I used Google Translator to communicate. We'd take turns typing questions or answers into the translator. Madre Teresa is just full of love and joy. What a blessing. We reluctantly had to stop to say a Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary that started at 3:00. They let me lead the last decade of the Rosary, which then became English on the front end of the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary with Spanish during the back half. The afternoon whiled away with USA soccer and then evening prayers followed by a dinner of leftovers from lunch.
The Day Winds Down
After dinner they put on a movie about St. Therese of Liseux, which funnily enough had English voices and Spanish sub-titles. I was settling into watching the movie when Padre Martín returned after a long day of Diocesan meetings and counseling to a married couple. It had taken him almost two hours of driving in horrible traffic to return to the convent. Since I hadn't seen him all day, I sat with him for dinner and talked. Before too long it was time for the night prayer followed by more individual hugs and good nights. It's very easy to get caught up in just interacting with these wonderful, holy people of God. I know, though, I have some work to do with interviews, website updates, picture taking, and just getting outside the walls of the convent. For now, though, sleep awaits. It's after 11:30 and I've got that 5:30 am bell to contend with.