Thursday, November 27, 2014

Prayers of the poor

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus heals a blind man. In our mind’s eye, the scene is picturesque - the man and Jesus meet and have an unexplainable encounter that is both human and divine. We are touched by Jesus’ care and concern for this man’s suffering and great need.

Now picture this:
I am walking home, caught up in my thoughts, unaware even of the street beneath my feet. My mind is flooded with situations that must be tended to -- the physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial needs of all the people we serve. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Rosalinda approaching. She is only in her 50s, but poverty has run its course on her body, and she appears to be a much older woman. An outsider may rightly label her a beggar, for she repeatedly comes to our mission house to beg for her daily bread.

She looks like poverty - blackening teeth, unsteady feet, sunken eyes. She smells like poverty. She speaks her poverty.

“Ma’am, I’m hungry, ma’am. Give me the rice.”

How many times I have heard these same words from her. I try to offer a little smile, but she keeps on:

“Ma’am, I have no food. My rice, ma’am. No coffee. My husband, no work.”

Was it any different for Jesus on the road to Jericho, confronted by a blind man?

“He shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!’ The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me!’”

Jesus, in His unending compassion, pauses and addresses him. “‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He replied, ‘Lord, please let me see.’”

The requests of the poor are rarely extravagant or wrapped in palatable euphemisms or disguised in pretty paper. They are raw and brutally honest. Their need is real.

Rosalinda and I make our way together to the corner store. I hand her the bag of rice and offer to pray with her for her family. But as I begin the prayer, her words tumble out over mine, and I stop to listen.

“Lord, thank You, Lord. Please help my family. Help my children. Help my husband find a work. Thank You, Lord.”

Her words are real - there is no guile, no pretension in them as she humbles herself before me and before her God. I know now what prayer is meant to be.

Our friend, Lola Dory, in a chapel her grandparents built.
Just as with the blind man who, upon receiving his sight, gave glory to God, Rosalinda gives glory to her Father in heaven, to the One Who provides for all her needs. I, too, give glory to God, thanking Him for teaching me all of this through His littlest ones.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A baby on Alvarez Street

Ever since we arrived here in Sagay, our neighbors have shown us the greatest friendship and hospitality and helped us to feel at home. We love being able to bless them in return for their kindness.

Last month our friends Patty and Jun Jun were expecting their first baby but were nervous about potential birth complications. We invited them to join us in a nightly novena to St. Gerard, and on day 4 of the novena the baby arrived!

Patty and Jun Jun are such a loving couple and wonderful first-time parents. It's very common here for a couple to live together and even raise a family without ever getting married. Please pray that we can encourage Patty and Jun to get married sacramentally in the Church.

Patty delivered the baby by c-section on October 12. Everyone wanted to know, "What will you name the baby?" One neighbor insisted on "Alexa" as a tribute to my teammate Alex. Jun suggested "Maria Teresa." I was curious to find out the saint of the day and - to my great surprise - discovered that October 12 is the feast of Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce! Now if that's not the Holy Spirit...

Welcome to the world, Maria Teresa Alexa!
My team was able to sponsor the entire hospital stay, as well as provide trips back and forth to the hospital on the opposite side of the island. Last week, we helped both mom and baby return to the hospital for check-ups. They are doing well, although the baby is now taking medicine for bronchitis. Prayers please!

An awkward neighborhood family photo was of course required to commemorate the occasion.
It's wonderful how a new baby brings everyone together! We can't wait for Maria Teresa Alexa to be baptized when we return to Camiguin after Christmas.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Island fever

As you may have heard, I was admitted to the hospital recently with dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted virus that is responsible for many deaths, particularly among small children, here in the Philippines. After I had been sick in bed for four days, Father Joe insisted on taking me to the hospital -- thank God for priests like him who truly live out their role as "father"! I was admitted for five additional days until my platelet count returned to normal.

Having best friends as your teammates makes a hospital stay more bearable!
It seems the mosquitoes have been making their rounds here in Sagay. Since I was released, there have been at least four more cases of dengue in our town. We sponsored medical expenses for two teenage brothers as well as a little boy who had contracted the virus - all three have since been discharged, praise God! Please pray for our friend Cha Cha's cousin, who is still fighting the virus and whose platelet count is dangerously low.

Just traditional hospital fare....rice, a fried fish, veggies with coconut milk, and tropical fruit cocktail.
God bless you and keep you always in His loving care!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tough love

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." ~Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11

Receiving a tearful hug from my students.
These are 36 of my favorite students - the entire "Our Lady of Fatima" 4th year class section - who came to our house escorted by their principal to beg forgiveness for having cheated on their exams. There is, as our priest Fr. Joe explains it, a "culture of cheating" here in the Philippines at every academic level, with which I am now very familiar after one year of teaching in a high school. (I do not say this to condemn or accuse, but rather from my and others' experiences.) Cheating is expected and oftentimes openly permitted by instructors.

In previous lessons on the Ten Commandments, I explained to my students that cheating is both stealing and lying (commandments #7 and 8). It would be far easier for me to simply adopt the cultural norm and permit their habit of cheating to continue, but the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and I love my students too much to allow them to remain in sin. What a powerful experience it was for this class to voice their sincerest apologies, and how happy I was to have the chance to forgive them and affirm them for their desire to change.

I pray that even my small witness will have a long-lasting impact on these students and that the sometimes painful process of disciplining those whom I love might someday yield in them the peaceful fruit of righteousness.