Jesus said to the Twelve:
“Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
I came across a statement that really made me stop and think. It’s one of those thoughts that when you hear it, will stay with you and force you to recall it. The statement reads, “Each human is created to be a dwelling place for God and his love. Humans can never be truly human unless the greatest value in each of their lives is to receive the love of God and to give it to the people around them. This past week I accompanied the delegation from our parish to El Salvador. We spent a week with the people of Paroquia San Antonio (San Antonio parish) in the town of Soyapango, just outside of San Salvador. To be completely truthful, I had a healthy measure of hesitation as our departure date neared. My trepidation stemmed from knowing this was not going to be a vacation. I knew that we were going to immerse ourselves in the poverty and the difficult circumstances of the people of El Salvador. This was not going to be a relaxing by the pool while somebody served you sort of trip. I have some familiarity with Latin America and its poverty, disease, and crime. I would be lying if I said that I was not more than just a little apprehensive about exposing my daughter, Izzy to all of this. But the truth is, the driver behind our participation, was Izzy.
Humans can never be truly human unless the greatest value in each of their lives is to receive God’s love and share it with those around them. In all my years and with all I have seen, never before have I witnessed the fullness of this statement until we were received into the community at El Salvador.
The people there have experienced civil war, economic devastation, natural disasters , and most recently an eruption of gang violence. These people have lived through a depth of misery and suffering that most of us here could never imagine.
In today’s gospel, we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both the soul and body in Gehenna. Gehenna was a common reference to the fires of hell. And indeed, as one ponders Gehenna, images of pain, suffering and darkness immediately come to mind.
The people of El Salvador have been to hell and back. But here is the thing, the darkness and despair that has plagued the history of this country were not sufficient enough to trample the soul of the Salvadorians.
The community of Paroquia San Antonio places its greatest value in receiving God’s love and sharing it with everyone around them. This parish mobilizes a force of 2000 volunteers spread across a multitude of ministries to extend the reach of the loving hand of Jesus. Please understand, this corps of volunteers is not wealthy nor does it enjoy a lifestyle of luxury or ease. Rather as with the entirety of the Salvadorian people, they endure a daily struggle just to survive. These people have firsthand knowledge of poverty and despair and still choose to be the instrument of God’s care. The people of Paroquio San Antonio spread across the town of Soyapango and beyond in search of the sick, the elderly the impoverished, the forgotten, and those who seek Christ to offer the light that is God’s love. The vastness of these efforts left me in awe of God’s power.
Today we heard Jesus say, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your father’s knowledge. Even the hairs of your head are counted.” Walking alongside the people of Paroquio San Antonio I saw this. I saw care being given to the poorest of the poor. I saw comfort being given to those in pain. I saw a brighter future being offered to those in despair. And I saw God’s mercy and compassion in the eyes of these volunteers. Faith brings us so far. Prayer is inspiring. But nothing stirs the spirit more like witnessing God in action. Indeed, I learned more about my faith and discovered more about God’s love through this experience.
One example that I would like to share is an experience we had while we were in the most rural part of El Salvador, quite simply we were in the jungle. We met a woman named Angelica who opened her home to the children of her community because she could no longer just be a witness to the crippling effects of malnutrition in the children of her village. Angelica is not a woman of great means. But I challenge you to find someone with a bigger heart and a greater capacity for love. In Spanish, Angelica means angel; for so she is. Angelica provides meals and basic education to the children around her. She welcomes them with open arms and is as affectionate as a doting grandmother. She stretches every dollar and is not shy about asking for help. After spending the afternoon with these children, it was easy to recognize that Angelica’s tender care was the place these children called home.
I asked her, “These children eat here during the week but what about the weekends?” Angelica’s gaze dropped to the floor and the expression on her face changed as she told us that they probably don’t get enough to eat. For Angelica, this charitable act of mercy is not simply an act of service. Rather, it is her mission to keep these children alive. Before we left her, we walked one of the children home. The poverty and the living conditions of this little boy’s family simply broke my heart. No one should have to live like that. Yet amidst conditions that would repulse all of us here, an angel steps forth who places the greatest value in receiving God’s love and passing it on to the people around her.
Our journey to receive God’s love today does not take us to the jungles of El Salvador but rather to this altar. As a community, we gather to receive the Eucharist, the manifestation of God’s love. We receive it and are charged with passing God’s love to all those around us.