Twice each year, missionaries from near and far visit our parish church to make an appeal for their cause. Two weeks ago, Deacon Alberto and his wife Eva joined us for our weekend Masses. Alberto came to St. Paul’s on behalf of his pastor who was unable to make the trip. Though I am certain that their pastor is a wonderful man, I am also certain that God smiled when Alberto and Eva agreed to represent him.
Our involvement began a few weeks before Alberto and Eva arrived. Our pastor spoke with Alberto over the phone a few times to acclimate him to our parish. A few days later, my husband the deacon called Alberto to ask what he would like to do at each of the Masses. Good deacon that he is, Alberto assured Mike that he would assist at all five Masses. Alberto also assured Mike that he would gladly welcome the company of another deacon on the altar to ease him through each of the liturgies. The first thing my husband said after speaking with Alberto on the telephone was, “He sounds like a really good guy.”
When Alberto and Eva arrived, our pastor welcomed them to the parish and into our hearts. After the five o’clock Mass, Father invited them to the parish house for dinner. Albert told us later how touched he was that Father Ray took the time to cook and to spend time with them. Our parish family made it very clear to Deacon Alberto and Eva that their presence touched our hearts. Those who attended the 5:00 Mass spoke their feelings about Alberto’s parish’s work among the poor loudly and clearly. They listened intently to his every word, filled the collection baskets and then engaged Albert and Eva in conversation for some time afterward. This scenario was repeated after every one of the Masses on Sunday. Though I heard Alberto’s homily four times, each time it touched my heart. One man left Mass after Albert’s homily to go to an ATM. He returned a few minutes later with a generous donation. Several people left only to return with cash or checks which they asked to be added to the second collection. Though Mass attendance tends to lighten up during the summer, the response to this mission appeal amazed us. What had our hearts told us?
After the last Mass Mass, my husband and I spent a little time with Alberto and Eva. Because they had never been there, we offered to take Alberto and Eva to Chicago for a day of sightseeing. Our amateur tour gave Alberto and Eva a taste of The Windy City. This time together gave Mike and me a deeper peek into two very precious hearts.
We learned that Alberto and Eva are retired high school teachers who continue to live on and work the family farm which Alberto’s family has owned for over a century. They have three sons, all college graduates, who are making their own contributions to this world of ours. As we conversed throughout the day, it occurred to me that Alberto and Eva could have left The Valley long ago to pursue a safer and easier life for themselves and their children. Yet, they did not. This couple’s hearts have been touched by God’s people and they simply cannot turn away from them. Whether fellow parishioners, neighbors or weary souls who have finally made it across the Rio Grande, Alberto and Eva, cannot turn away from any of them. Though they do all they can themselves, through the church and local agencies to provide for these people’s material needs, they also share themselves in the most heartfelt ways. Alberto told us that he almost drowned when he was eleven years old. For all of his life, he has not been able to explain how he made it out of the water that should have robbed him of his life that day. The only explanation Alberto can offer is that God had a plan for him. “How can I walk away,” Alberto said, “when the Lord put me here?”
I share all of this with you because Matthew’s gospel (16:13-20) relates a classic example of what it means to follow ones heart. Jesus asked The Twelve, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they had heard on the street -that Jesus was John the Baptizer or Elijah. While they were willing to repeat the opinions of others, none had the courage to declare what God had revealed in his heart, except Simon. “You are the Christ,” Simon proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” The big fisherman, who often spoke before he thought, wisely followed his heart on that particular day. He acknowledged his faith in Jesus in spite of what the others might have thought of him. Jesus rewarded Simon’s faith and courage with a new name. “You are Peter –Rock– and upon this rock I will build my church.”
It seems to me that whenever we follow our hearts and do the right thing, Jesus proclaims us “rocks” as well. Whether we are boulders or tiny pebbles does not matter. Peter, Alberto and Eva have shown us that God uses every one of us wherever we are to build his kingdom on this earth, one Rock at a time.
©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved