Monday, January 18, 2010

My Will or Thine?: The Ministry of Accompaniment

The reading today, 1 Samuel 15:16-23, struck a nerve. Saul has been told by God via Samuel to destroy all of Amalek but he puts his own spin on the order, saving the best sheep and oxen, ostensibly to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel is not pleased and tells Saul: "Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams." How often do we, like Saul, want to decide for ourselves what is pleasing to God, to set our own agenda rather than listen to Him?

Yesterday was a case in point. I woke up without having slept well and with a backache. Dragged my tired self half an hour in the rain over to escuela at 7 a.m., thinking that after I got through that, I would find a quiet place to hole up with the Sunday Post and a cup of coffee, maybe some breakfast, and then take a bus to Our Lady Queen of Peace (and Quiet) for Mass, drop my little donation for Haiti in the basket and call it a day.

Those of you who are in Hispanic ministry will not be surprised that nothing turned out as planned. At escuela, MT spotted me and insisted that she had to talk to me immediately afterwards. "Talk" turned out to be accompanying her to co-sign an application for a loan from her parish credit union so that she could help her grown son with his university tuition. This is the kind of thing I REALLY don't like to do, a) because so many in our community are very poor credit risks and b) because it really burns me up that our saintly Latina mothers are forced to toil and go into debt even into old age because their children think they are too good to take blue collar jobs to help themselves get ahead or defer their dreams until they are able to finance them themselves. MT is in her 60s and still cleaning offices 6 days a week.

Having co-signed the loan application (we are still called to help one another when we can even when we have misgivings) I thought I could get my day back on track. Hah! The moment MT found out I was going out to breakfast, she insisted on going with me and treating me. Now, it was pouring with rain, MT did not have an umbrella, we did not have a car, and MT was hobbling on a foot she had injured earlier in the week by dropping a TV on it. I tried to suggest that it would be much more sensible for MT to stay in the warmth of her church and wait for Mass to begin, but she grabbed onto my arm and we set off limping to the nearby McDonalds under one umbrella that left both of us mostly exposed to the elements. We basically got soaked but to not allow her to come along would have been an unpardonable sin against Latino hospitality and reciprocity.

By the time we finished our meal, the day was so far off course that there was no option but to accompany MT back to Mass in her parish, a parish I had left ages ago. As I sat through another wineless Communion -- ironic on a Sunday when the Gospel reading was the Wedding at Cana (where is Jesus when you need Him?) -- and then watched the parish divide neatly along its usual lines as one parishioner was honored on her birthday while those who are feuding with her walked out, I was vividly reminded of why I had left and was longing for my new parish home.

I suppose God had a purpose in all this and I followed obediently as my personal agenda unraveled but, in the end, I just felt drained. Next time, Lord, can I please just sacrifice that ram?

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