Sunday, July 5, 2009

El Profeta del Barrio

Today the Gospel reading was Mark 6: “No one is a prophet in their own country.” Our new pastor, Fr. Tim, gamely celebrated the Spanish language liturgy and even preached in Spanish even though he told us it has been a while since his last Spanish speaking post in Puerto Rico. His homily was simple but marvelous and very understandable. It revolved around an experience he had had in Pittsburgh. He used to bring coffee to and talk with a homeless lady named “Crazy Sally”. Sally asked him what he did and he told her about his three different positions at the university. She said he must be very important to have to work so hard and, in reality, he was overworked. Eventually, he said, the stress got to him and he had a stroke. He said he often ponders what would have happened had he listened to Sally’s warning, how we expect God to speak in great and glorious ways but He often speaks to us from the humblest people around us and we don’t recognize His voice.

All the same, I wonder how Fr. Tim felt about the hymn the choir chose – reprinted below – which went even beyond our congregation’s usual radicalism. Fr. Joe, our regular celebrant, is used to us. We are all singing from the same page. But one never knows about new priests. The hymn alludes to the Juan Diego/Our Lady of Guadalupe story and one verse says: “Lo que le pasó a Juan Diego / A muchos les pasa hoy / Juan Diego no era del clero / Y el obispo no creyó.” (What happened to Juan Diego/ Happens to many today / Juan Diego wasn’t part of the clergy / And the bishop didn’t believe him.) And isn’t that in fact the situation lay people are still in today? We can’t get the bishop’s ear because we don’t wear a Roman collar. When there is a conflict, the pastor is believed, not the people, even when there are many more of us and we are saying: “Help! Something is wrong here.” Pues no somos consagrados, no somos nada. Se requiere un milagro como el del Tepeyac para que nuestra jerarquia nos escuche.

El Profeta del Barrio

Un día Jesús andaba
El hijo de Nazaret
La gente muy asustada
Decía no puede ser

El hijo del carpintero
Profeta no puede ser
Es uno de nuestro barrio
Profeta no puede ser

El tiempo sigue su marcha
Y la gente sigue igual
A los pobres los rechazan
Y los quieren humiliar

La Virgen miró a Juan Diego
Un hombre de mucho amor
Y el obispo estaba ciego
Por eso no le creyó

Lo que le pasó a Juan Diego
A muchos les pasa hoy
Juan Diego no era del clero
Y el obispo no creyó

Los pobres y los sencillos
Son los que son del Señor
Para confundir los ricos
Y son almas sin razón.

The song turns out to be by Carlos Rosas, one of the first Mexican American liturgical composers in the United States. Rosas was associated with the Mexican American Cultural Center (now Catholic College) in San Antonio. MACC helped Rosas produce his first songs, including the “Rosas del Tepeyac Mass” in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. His compositions are now widely sung and available in many Spanish language hymnals of all denominations, including Flor y Canto.

“El Profeta del Barrio” was very controversial and was even banned in one Texas parish because the priest thought it would invite the people to revolt. Rosas’ response? “Liturgical songs must reflect the struggles and traditions of el pueblo (the people) even if they may make some clergy uncomfortable. Liturgical songs should be able to communicate and speak to the reality of el pueblo -– de corazón a corazón (from heart to heart).” (Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, G. Espinosa et al. - Eds, Oxford Univ. Press., 2005, p.121)

The whole experience reminded me of another song on the same theme: “Mary Was an Only Child” by Art Garfunkel. At the end of the song, he says:

And if you watch the stars at night,
And find them shining equally bright,
You might have seen Jesus and not have known what you saw.
Who would notice a gem in a five and dime store?

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