Easter letter. It is already Palm Sunday. Since Christmas the time has gone very quickly. The usual things, of course, but two experiences have mainly absorbed me during these weeks.
It is already Palm Sunday. Since Christmas, time has flown. It has been the same as always: the monthly letter and the radio program on Justice and Peace, the priestly ministry in our parish and in the neighboring ones, the meetings with the United Nations and with our NGOs; but above all, two experiences have absorbed my time in these last few weeks.
The first. I spent a month in Ecuador where I led a week of spiritual exercises, gave a seminar on culture and charisma, and felt energized by lectures on the new meaning of the mission in the service of a religious congregation. These activities have led me to tour ten cities in the country, a marathon that some advised me not to go on by saying "at your age, it will take its toll.” This tour took me from the 2,800 meters of Quito to zero in Machala and 3,500 from San Gabriel to the ocean shore in Esmeraldas.
Against all odds, everything went very well. The welcome, the ease with which I handled Spanish and the communication techniques, the gratitude of many participants -laics and religious ones-, and the satisfaction of those who organized these services, has left me with great joy and, I might as well confess that it gave me a certain professional pride. However, right away, this was all put into perspective by my return to the cold and, sometimes, empty churches of the English-speaking communities in New Jersey. Then, I remembered Pascal the donkey. Do you know this story?
"Jesus entered Jerusalem on a little donkey" (Mt.11, 1-10). On Palm Sunday, that little donkey came home happy and told his mother with pride: “Today I was in a big city and, when I entered, everyone applauded me. The people were shouting with joy, they filled the streets, and were very happy to see me.”
The mother listened to him calmly and then asked if he had been alone. “No”, answered the donkey. He had been carrying someone named Jesus. Then the mother said to him: “Look, son, whenever you can, go back to that city, but do it alone this time.” Obedient, the donkey answered: “As soon as I get the chance to, I will.”
And so he did. This time his entrance was desolate, and he was very badly received, and even insulted: “vagrant animal, dirty beast.” He was mistreated an even beaten. He returned home, dejected. “Mom, I'm sad. I have returned to that city but this time, it has been so different! No applause, no crowds, no attention. Rather, they have insulted, mistreated, and beaten me. They have not recognized me!” Distressed, he asked: “Why did this happen to me, mom?”
The wise mother answered: My beautiful child, remember that you, without Jesus, are only a donkey! (Unknown author). In line with this thought, a wise man once said that: “if you know how to laugh at yourself, you will never miss an opportunity to be happy."
Then the second. For some years now, I have had a problem on one foot; I found out about it during the Camino de Santiago, which may have made it worse. Nothing serious, I could walk and stand for a long time too. The somewhat ironic smile of the two specialists who I went to see led me to believe that I had a decision to make: if you think about dying before the age of 74, it is a useless surgery, if you want to live and walk a lot until the age of 80, then it is necessary. Of course, nobody wanted to decide my future for me. Then, I received a letter from a dear friend from a mission in Burundi: “Don’t ever stop preaching”; and I decided to go on with the surgery. And now, I'm happy. Not only because everything seems to have gone well, but also because the weeks of immobility have taught me a couple of little things about myself and the operation process has made me understand many things about the American system. Doctors and nurses have been gentle and efficient, by the way. But, perhaps because the surgeons generally rent the operating rooms for hours, the impression you get is one of being in an assembly line while you pass the control process at the entrance of the hospital, then that of distribution, pre-operation, anesthesia, and finally the operation itself. At each step, there were always the same questions about previous surgeries, allergies, age, the foot that would be operated, et cetera. If you risk a response outside the realm of yes or no and similar formalities, the process would stop: How do you feel? ", “Like someone who is 70 years old!” “Pardon me?” as if to say, “Why don’t you just play the game?”
And then I understood one of today’s problems because of an experience dealing with faith: the media, public opinion, globalizing culture, and virtual communities reduce us to a bunch of numbers. For each of us, including myself, it becomes difficult to believe, to perceive, to feel, to live the personal love of God. The fact that God "passes" through my life, and the unique and important person that I am because of Him, is something strange, outside of the realm of "normal." However, this is Easter. If Christ has risen, it means - paraphrasing from Paul - that I - you - are deeply personal realities, called and capable of resurrecting today and every day.
And this is my wish for me and for you.