Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Easter Encounter

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is the progression through the liturgical seasons. Right now, of course, we're in Easter. Being that the resurrection of Christ is the center of our faith, there's A LOT to think about this season, but one of the things I have been prompted to think about by the readings lately has been the importance of relationship in conversion. We recognize the Risen Lord not by theology or logic or signs, but by daring to engage in a relationship with Him.

One of the first readings this season (John 20: 11-18) depicts Mary Magdelene encountering Jesus at His tomb. He's supposed to be wrapped up in his burial cloths, peacefully decomposing behind the giant stone at the entrance of his tomb, but when she gets there, Jesus' body is nowhere to be found. As she sits there weeping, Jesus appears to her and asks her why she is crying. Mary, oblivious that she is speaking to her Lord, explains her situation and even asks Him if He knows where Jesus' body is. In fact, Luke tells us that Mary thought she was talking to the gardner. All the prophecy about Jesus rising from the dead, His own words, the empty tomb, the faith of her companions who ran to spread the news...none of it is sufficient to open Mary's eyes to Jesus standing right in front of her. It is not until He speaks her name that she recognizes Him. I imagine it was something in His voice, a tenderness and familiarity as he calls her, that suddenly awakens her to the truth. The history they share together, their friendship, is recalled in this moment and she finally recognizes Jesus, calling out "teacher." It is their relationship that finally reveals what scripture and signs and the testimony of her brothers could not.

A few days later, the mass reading (Luke 24: 13-35) told the story of a few of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Along their route they encounter Jesus, but again, He is unrecognized. They travel for miles together, and as they walk Jesus interprets the scriptures from them. But it doesn't matter how clearly they are taught, they still fail to see Christ. Once again, Christ is revealed through relationship. As they break bread together, an act of fellowship and togetherness, they finally realize the identity of their companion.

In both of these stories, Jesus is present long before even His friends recognize Him. He walks with them, talks with them, consoles them, teaches them, as they continue to search in vain for Him. The scriptures, the marvels, the faith of their companions, is useless in revealing Christ to them. Only a true and intimate relationship allows them to see the presence of Jesus Resurrected.

Things haven't changed much over the last 2,000 years. All of us, sometimes without even realizing it, are seeking Christ. We pour over the scriptures, cling to the testimony of our friends, seek out marvels and miracles to support our faith, engage in discussions and debates about the nature of God and His relationship to the world, but often in vain. These things guide us, teach us, direct us and comfort us...but they do not take the place of a genuine relationship with Christ. Though we grow to know Christ through these means, only a true friendship with God, cultivated through prayer and service to Him, can reveal His presence to us. Similarly, all the apologetics in the world are not a substitute for a ministry of relationship. We can offer "proof" and logic and theology but really, the only lasting evangelization exists in guiding people in to relationship with Jesus by reavealing His presence through their relationship with us. Theology is refuted, the faith of others is suspect, but personally encountering God's goodness and mercy is irrefutable evidence of His presence in the world. There is no substitute in ministry for seeking to be the hands of our merciful God on earth. Jesus tells the crowd in the Bread of Life Discourse "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled." Lasting faith, the kind that moves us to seek God over and over every day comes not from miracles or reason, but from drawing near enough to Him to be fed, to partake in the Bread of Life, to be nourished by Jesus' presence in our lives. It was true for His followers thousands of years ago and it's true today. How do we allow this to inform our ministry and evangelization, and even our own conversion experiences?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Another...month? I think?

Well, friends. I'm behind once again on my updates, so you'll have to deal with another jumbled list of events in Bolivia I've neglected to report on. But first, if you haven't read my last post, or if you have read it and are on the fence, I haven't found any help for my friend yet. Please think about whether this might be a opportunity for you!

Easter came and went and was beautiful! Holy Week is so wholeheartedly celebrated here! On Palm Sunday, we had a procession with Padre Pepe riding a donkey down the road as we waved our palms and sang. Though much of Holy Week is a reflection on Christ's profound humility, it is inextricable from His Kingship and exaltation. Pretty much exactly how the hymn in Ephesians sums it up.

As Padre Pepe road his donkey to the church, reenacting Jesus' entrance in to Jerusalem, the clapping and singing and celebration in memory of Christ's triumphant arrival seemed so right.
As the people circled around our sacrificed king, present in the eucharist, in the tabernacle on Thursday night, bowing in silent adoration of Our Lord, it seemed so right.
As we followed the bobbing crucifix through the town on Good Friday, stopping to pray stations of the cross at home-made alters around Itocta, birds lining the power lines and even the cows standing at attention, it seemed so right.

Though we rebel against it at times, our entire being is shaped to pay homage to our King and Creator. The world ought to stop and take notice, to weep for Jesus' bloodshed and rejoice in His resurrection. Itocta seems to "get it" and I really enjoyed spending Holy Week here.

I didn't stay for all of it though...
On Friday night, eating a late dinner, the sisters were talking about sending Hna. Lettie to La Paz for elections because she's registered to vote there. Of course, she shouldn't go alone, so they decided to send the tall scary white girl to protect her. Or something. But anyway, I heard my name, looked up, and the sisters asked "wanna go to La Paz?" Uh...sure! When? "tomorrow morning." Nothing like deciding about twelve hours before leaving.
So I was in La Paz with the small community (only four sisters!) for Easter. It was great to see another school and parish run by HDS and get to know a few more of the sisters. La Paz is pretty cold, especially this time of year. Bundling up in the cold, laying around with the sisters watching spider man between masses, and being "surprised" about every hour by one of the aunty-like sisters with some new treat or chocolate or full-on feast...it was actually a lot like Christmas with my relatives. It was also an interesting experience to watch elections in another country. The school the sisters run was a voting station for the county so everyone came to the school to get their ballots, mark them with their fingerprints, and cast them there. Vendors set up in the surrounding streets like it was a fair. It'll take some time to see how the new local government leaders (these elections were for mayors, governors, etc) will interact with the socialist system developing since December's elections.

Last weekend Jenna and Margaret, two of the SLMs working in other hogars in the Santa Cruz area, came to visit. It was so great to see them! It's easy to forget we're a little isolated out here until someone shows up to enjoy Cochabamba with us. The three of us went to a fabulous concert on Saturday night -- Los Kjarkas and Kala Marka, the two best-known folk music bands around. The concert was yet another great lesson in Bolivian culture.
I picked up our tickets earlier that week and sprung the extra three dollars for floor seats in the stadium (we were feeling extravagant, I suppose) and the tickets said 8. So we showed up at 7:45 and found a line stretching around the corner. We started walking. And walking. And walking. Every time we thought we were getting to the end of the line, it snaked again, wrapping around the stadium and ending a few blocks from the entrance. So we jumped in line, figuring we'd only wait fifteen minutes before things started moving. Apparently we had forgotten what country we were in. At about 9:15 they opened the doors and people finally starting enterring, over an hour after the concert was scheduled to start. When we finally reached the doors, they took our tickets, let us in, and we realized we were in the bleachers with no way to get to the floor. We went to talk to the people who took our tickets and some huge bouncer-looking man took pity on us and told us to follow him...then took off sprinting in a circle around the stadium to yet another unmarked line where apparently we were supposed to have known to enter. In the end, it was pretty much irrelevant, because there were no seats left and we stood with a few other hundred VIPers on the ground floor. Which was actually great...it gave us a chance to jump and dance and leap around with the rest of the stadium. Both Los Kjarkas and Kala Marka play very traditional music accompanied by some amazing ballet folklorico on a stage in front of the band. It was so moving to see people so excited and empassioned, celebrating their culture and shouting in turn for Bolivia and their individual departments. Pretty cool. Patriotism definitely encompasses a lot more than it seems to in the US. It's hard to compare what took place at the concert with something in The States. Unfortunately, we had to leave a few songs in to Los Kjarkas' set because it was already after 12:30 and time to head home. But all in all, a really great night.

While they were here we also had ourselves a little adventure finding another orphanage run by the same congregation Jenna works with. After travelling to a completely different city and finding a different hogar outside Cochabamba, we had a little more success the next day visiting Hogar San Francisco. The sisters were so welcoming and we had a great visit, but as we talked with them about the hogar we had found the day before and a few other hogars they were acquianted with, I felt a little overwhelmed. There are over 150 hogars in the department of Cochabamba alone. Ours, with fifty girls, two sisters, two employees, a secretary, a cook, and two volunteers, is one of the better-staffed. More and more I hear about the incredibly over-whelmed social-service programs (not to mention sisters, staff, and volunteers) doing their best to support the people. Hogars of fity children with one sister and a few drop-in volunteers. An hogar of seventy with three sisters and three afternoon tutors. A special needs orphanage of over eighty children, some of whom aren't even mobile, with three sisters and six staff. It's hard not to get discouraged hearing things like that, and it definitely makes me more thankful for how well-staffed we are, though it took me a realize how good we have it.

Things are still moving along in the hogar. The sisters are trying to get some girls to build some better habits, especially some of the teenagers who are overweight, so every evening after dinner I lead some sort of work out program for about an hour. They've gotten pretty in to it and it's fun to teach them about their bodies. It's shocking how little they've learned about excercise and self-care. They come to me panicked the day after a hard workout because their muscles are sore and they've never experienced that before. Or while doing some aerobics one or two will declare they are "burning up" and throw themselves dramatically on to the floor. Inevitably someone will ask "what's this for" every time we stretch and usually when I tell them to drink water too. It's pretty comical and I'm having a blast. A few of the girls get up with me at 5:30 a few times a week for a little dance class as well. So things are busy,the usual tutoring and computer lab duties, plus their new excercise program, and attending daily parent teacher conferences for our most difficult students. It's all keeping me on my toes but I'm definitely happy and loving life here still.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Hello, friends! I have lots to write, about Holy Week, a recent trip to La Paz, the girls, a few new adventures, and so on. This afternoon, however, I just wanted to drop a quick appeal in hopes that there are a few readers out there who are feeling generous.

I'm leaving a lot of details out, but if you'd like more you can certainly email me and we can talk. One of my dear friends here is in need. Yes, I know, this is Bolivia, who isn't in need? But she has a special role in my experience here and I'd like to do what I can to help her. She was the first person I had a genuine ¨heart to heart¨ with and was a huge comfort when Lee passed away. She recently discovered that her mother has liver cancer and I would like to do what I can to support her after everything she has done for me in my own experience of grief.

After weeks of tests and operations and hospital stays her family has incurred quite a bit of debt they have done their best to pay off. They've depleted their savings, sold what they can (I've seen pictures of her home...it's about what you picture when you think rural poverty in Bolivia), payed off as much as they can, and remain with about $2,000 in debt and the possibility of additional chemotherapy (and its trumendous cost) pending.

I would love to tell you more about this woman, but her situation is very private at this point. The sisters don't know about her family's financial situation and I can tell it took incredible humility for her to say anything to me about it in the first place. If anyone, you, someone you know, a church group, a club, anyone has any interest in supporting this family in any amount PLEASE let me know ASAP. Really, it's easy to leave the bills and the desperation and the need to someone else, but one of the things I've learned here is that, often times, there is no one else. If the need is met, it is by God working through us and, as the sisters tell me every day "God will repay you!" Also-I promise that making a donation doesn't mean that you will be hounded for money at every opportunity.

Thanks for your consideration.