The day started out as the other days with prayers and Mass. Padre Martín gave the homily again, and I'll share just one quote because I have so much other stuff to cover today: "It doesn't matter how many rosaries or sacrifices you make if your heart is like a stone. God cannot be deceived." This was an allusion to yesterday's homily where he talked about how at every Mass God provides the machinery to break away the rocks in our heart. Padre mentioned to me yesterday how his morning homily's are used to help form the men. This is not as easy as it may seem. Life in a religious community can be very stressful, and the formation includes the building of a family as well as the making of priests. It's not easy.

Friday is typically a day of fasting, but because I am here they did not fast. I asked Padre Martín about this, and he said that even St. Benedict said you should not fast when guests are present. They have a cook that makes lunch every day except Friday, so knowing how much Padre likes Italian food I offered to be the cook and make a big pot of marinara with Italian sausage. So off we went to find the ingredients I needed, which is actually a short list. The local market is very typical of markets I've seen in other travels, full of small niche booths for each type of thing you might need. It was bustling and fun, and I enjoyed watching Padre Jose Maria and Br. Juan Diego interact with the locals. The two things we could not get there were canned tomatoes and the sausage, so we had to go the big supermarket in the larger town. Once we got there the only tomatoes they had were in small pouches, and there were no Italian sausages. What to do?

I threw caution to the wind and bought 30 small packets of Italian tomato sauce, and then got some kind of Peruvian sausage to flavor the sauce. I figured I'd add lots of fresh basil and hope for the best. Once we got back and I started cooking, there was a great curiosity with Br. Pio snapping pictures and those who like to cook watching how I made the sauce (in case they wanted to make it again). The sauce itself turned out very well. It was a shame we didn't have the Italian sausages, but Br. Juan Diego (who likes to cook) gave me a great compliment when I gave him a pre-taste and he exclaimed, "Gloriosa!" All in all, it was a great success. Whew!

After lunch I interviewed Br. Domingo and discovered another fascinating story (which you can read in full here). Br. Domingo felt his calling at age five as he was watching a very famous Our Lord of the Miracles procession on TV. When the camera zoomed in on Jesus' face, he saw Jesus open his eyes and stare at him. From that moment forward he knew he would be a priest. That's followed by a wild story about how he met Padre Martín and ended up in the community. It's very much worth reading. Sometimes you hear these stories and just cannot believe the way God works. But we know that, right? "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways." I think it's just unusual to see that scripture illustrated so plainly. I will also add that he has considerable musical talent and a beautiful singing voice. He sang "Here I am Lord" (the Spanish version) in Mass, and...wow...just...wow.

When the interview was complete, Padre Jose Maria and Br. Agustín took me into Lima to see the tomb of St. Martin de Porres which is in the convent of Santo Domingo. St. Martin de Porres is one of the many Patron Saints of the community. We got there just before 5:30 pm, but it was closed. I will give credit here to Br. Agustín for persistence in trying to find someone who would agree to let us in, but he was getting nowhere in his efforts. I quickly said a prayer of intercession to St. Martin de Porres begging him to intercede so I could see his tomb. About a minute later one of the priests of the convent showed up, and he let us through and into the convent. But there we found the door to the shrine room was locked. Once again I asked St. Martin de Porres to help, and Br. Agustín quickly found someone with keys and we ended up by ourselves in the room with the tomb. Of course I thanked St. Martin de Porres in my prayers for the graces we had received. The Saints are very close to us, and they want to help us. Don't be afraid to ask.

We milled around the convent for a while, which was really beautiful with a stunning courtyard, many old paintings of various Saints, a chair that had been used by St. John Paul II, and several relics of other Saints. I was marveling the entire time that we were just sort of let loose in the convent, no doubt partly enabled by my two companions in habits.

We left the convent area and went into their Basilica to look at all the side chapel areas. It was very much like the churches and cathedrals in Europe. Br. Agustín and I were toward the front when he spotted a lady in a pew just crying her eyes out. He went over and started talking to her, and I continued my tour. After I had looked at everything, Fr. Jose Maria and I met up in the back. Br. Augustín was still talking to the lady, so we patiently waited. He spent 20-25 minutes consoling her and finally left her with a big hug. A nice moment to see. We went into a few other churches within walking distance, including the main Cathedral. While in the Cathedral, an older couple stopped Fr. Jose Maria and began talking to him (the woman doing most of the talking). Again, we sat off to the side and waited. At the end of the conversation, he blessed each of them as I quietly snapped photos with my iPhone. Again, it was very touching. Then as we made our way to the front again after more touring, two more ladies stopped Fr. Jose Maria and asked for a blessing. This seems to happen a lot.

We made our way back to the car and I thought we were on our way back to the convent. Along the way we stopped for some dinner because we were all very hungry. They chose a food court in a shopping mall, and when Br. Agustín saw the KFC sign, he got very animated and said, "We go to Kentucky? You like Kentucky?" I could tell he really wanted to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, so that's where we ate. I still thought we were on our way home, but Fr. Jose Maria started making strange turns and the two of them were speaking in Spanish. We stopped. We reversed. I finally asked, "Are we lost?" What they didn't tell me was that we had to pick up some donated grocery supplies from a benefactor's house. She lived in a residential area, and we went through three security gates to get there. Security here is a big thing, from electrical shock wires to metal spikes to broken glass, the tops of walls are always protected from thieves.

By the time we finally made it back to the convent it was after 11:00. I was exhausted from all the walking and ready to crash. But Padre Martín was still in his office so I talked with him for a bit. I went to bed thinking the 5:30 am bell awaited me, but it turns out they sleep in until 6:00 am on Saturdays and everything starts a bit later. But that's for the Day 5 blog...

Padre Martín's Homily

Today was the first day the homily was given by Padre Martín since I arrived. I am used to hearing his homily's, but he always seems to offer something special. Padre has a very special relationship with Jesus, and he often says that he just wants to be Jesus' microphone. Today was no exception. Here are few quotes: "When you die everything you have is gone. The only things that are worth bringing to heaven are the actions of mercy and good that you have done in your life." Speaking directly to the brothers about their vocation he said, "If you don't let Christ live in you, then Christ cannot speak through you." "The devil doesn't want you to be free. He wants you to be a slave to sin. In that slavery your will and your heart will be very far from Jesus' heart." Then after Mass, he added this nugget: "If we don't allow Jesus to change us then his graces just bounce off of us. We're wasting our time."

Prayers and the City

After the mid-morning prayer hour, five of us went into Lima to a monthly Rosary group run by several ladies in the city. Padre Martín has a strong friendship with them, and they provide supplies (groceries, etc.) to the community. It's pretty clear these ladies are in the upper class in Lima. They are a lively group and were extremely welcoming and gracious to me. They were thrilled to see the video of The Lord showing His presence during a Mass in San Antonio last month. Once everyone had arrived and settled down, each person offered their intentions before we recited the Rosary. The recitation went from person to person, so it was completely in Spanish until it got to me, then I recited my parts in English. After the Rosary, Padre Martín gave a brief reflection on today's gospel where Thomas doubted the other Apostles when they told him they had seen The Lord. Brother Luis Gerardo once again interpreted for me, but I found I knew some parts based on the small amount of Spanish I've picked up from the daily prayers. I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, but I knew the point.

Almost all the ladies spoke English, so it was very easy to talk with them. As I was talking with a lady named Claudia, and we were sharing our experiences with Padre Martín, she started telling me a story. I quickly discovered I knew exactly what she was talking about because I'd already heard it from Padre. It is so great to meet these people that I've heard about over the past few years. Claudia's husband is a lawyer and has been setting up a Peruvian non-profit for Padre's community similar to this one. It is a very good and necessary step.

We were supposed to go see the tomb of St. Martin de Porres, but the meeting ran long and we all needed some lunch. We went to a seafood restaurant where Padre knows the owner. I tried the ceviche, which was excellent. We headed home after the meal (it was after 4:00 and traffic is horrible in Lima). Along the way home we detoured so I could see the Ministry of Education building. It is designed to look like a stack of books, and it does. We did have a minor incident where a driver banged on the side of our van and yelled at us as Padre Jose Maria (our driver) was trying to merge. We just laughed.

After dinner I interviewed Brother Juan Francisco for his biography, but I was without my human translator as he was ill. We used the Google translator program to work our way through it. Brother Juan Francisco heard his calling to the priesthood at the age of 13, but he was discouraged by many people. He was fortunate to have a priest become a father figure to him and help him fulfill his vocation. He is from Peru, but his hometown is about 12 hours from Lima. The answer as to how he ended up in the community was too long, he said, to type into the translator. Our interview got cut short due to night prayers, but I found out enough to know there is a lot more to his story. I'm looking forward to talking with him again.

Tomorrow should be a busy day. We are still trying to see St. Martin de Porres, and I have a lot more interviews to do. Oh, and I offered to cook lunch! I'm making a big pot of marinara sauce with sausage -- assuming I can find the ingredients I need at the market. For now, though, that 5:30 am bell lingers in my thoughts. I need some sleep.

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.

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.