A very close friend of mine, who happens to be a priest and a faithful reader of this blog, recently commented to me that these writings of mine are my slimly veiled attempts to continue to give a weekly homily. His critique gave me some pause, but certainly not because he was wrong. I would like to think of them as reflections, more spiritual than religious. Still, I guess that I would have to admit that you can take the boy out of the priesthood, but you can’t take the priesthood out of the boy. I would defend myself, however, to say that there has never been any attempt to proselytize. That being the primary thing to which I have always rebelled. The most spiritual people I have known, many of you even now reading these words, have also been the most anti-religious, if not self-proclaimed atheists. I guess my primary purpose and hope in this publication is that we all might give due reverence to that which is meaningful in life.
The thing that is so special about being here at Montaña de Luz is that we grabble with profound questions almost on a daily basis. What is love? How do we love? Can our work, our love, our ministrythreatening disease and face the reality of mortality at much too early of an age. We are present to children who have known the horror of abandonment and wrenching loss. We are present to children who have been traumatized. It is really not a hard thing to figure out at all. We are present to children who have been denied the most basic of human needs: to be loved. On our part, the response is no less difficult to discern: we need to love them. But oh, how hard it is to love!
Love is confused with so many things, is it not? Laura and I watched a woman on a bus the other day with her four-year old son. She was on her cell phone and seemed somewhat annoyed by her son’s need for attention. First, she bought him a bottle of bubbles. He was still fidgeting and demanding. She then bought him some cotton candy from a vendor through the bus window. All the time she stayed on the phone. The child was looking at his mother expecting something more. When the child didn’t get what he wanted, he satisfied himself, at least in the moment, with the bubbles and the cotton candy. But then again, yesterday morning I saw our neighbor with his five year old son outside our door on the street. The man seemed to be waiting for someone, looking around a little anxious. His son was talking a mile a minute. He was talking about seeing a cow on the road the other day and what the cow had been doing. The man couldn’t have been at all interested in his child’s ramblings. Still, he took a moment to listen to him, to be present. The child was thrilled. I can’t tell from these two incidents which parent loved their child more. But I can tell, at least in the moment, which child realized the impact of love.
At Montaña de Luz we’re desperate to love our children. Still, there are thirty of them. Sometimes, I suspect, the expressions of our love are somewhat less than convincing. We have different staff, and different volunteers, that sometimes give different messages. The consistency and constancy of our love is often challenged by the need to manage an organization. People come with cakes and piñatas and spend an afternoon with the kids. They want to tell them that they care. But then they leave, and that yields something of a contradictory message. Beyond all of this, and this is the hardest of all our challenges, we want to be loved as much as we want to love. It’s often very difficult to discern between what is our need and what is the child’s need. So love, as sincere as our intentions might be, is tangled within all sorts of other junk. Sometimes, we’re just too wrapped up. Sometimes, we fail.
Do we love? Have we loved enough? We are about to enter Holy Week. I think of Jesus: his expressions of love for the people and the people’s expressions of love for him. By all accounts, Jesus failed. Though all that Jesus wanted to do was convey the enormity of God’s love through himself, the people turned on him violently. They didn’t love Jesus back. In fact, Jesus failed so badly in his expression of love that they killed him. The purity of Jesus’ love was a lot better than ours. Then maybe my expectation that love will be transformative is misplaced. Maybe this is just a fool’s journey. I suppose thinking that love can overcome the cruelty of injustice, abandonment and trauma is like believing that Jesus’ love was actually victorious.