“The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” (Psalm 145:16)
After one month of serving here, yesterday I finally received my first sick call, if for no other reason than there weren’t any other priests around. We were blessed to have three priests visiting last month who helped out and covered all these duties because there were days were I would be focusing on administrative matters of the church and I world turn to my secretary and ask: “When do I get to be a priest?” Well, yesterday, I grabbed my oils and drove down the road to visit a 92-year-old Cuban lady whose daughter had requested the last rites for her mother. This lady had just woken up when I arrived and when I walked in I asked her if she wanted to pray and she said yes. She made the sign of the cross with me, said the Our Father with me, and listened attentively though at times I can see that her eyes and her attention would drift off. When I was done with the visit, I said my goodbyes to her family, and this little old lady kind of sat up in her bed and asked, “Are you leaving already?” I kind of teased her knowing what makes Cuban grandmothers tick and answered, “Do you want me to stay? Are you going to cook for me?” Without missing a beat she belted out, “Whatever you want!” Her nurse and her family shared a good laugh since she has been bed ridden for some time now, but her instincts were still to serve, to cook, to prepare a feast for family and visitors alike. I remember that towards the end of both my grandmothers’ lives, what hurt them the most wasn’t their illness but their inability to serve their families and more importantly: to cook for them.
Today’s readings are all about food. They would make my grandmothers and the lady that I anointed yesterday proud. Jesus feeds us until we have our fill. He is our Lord and Savior and he serves us! Here at this altar we are fed from his hand as the psalm tells us. Which brings me to another story about food and a priest’s hand that happened to me yesterday as well. As many of you know, behind our school we have a convent of Discalced Carmelites Cloistered Nuns. There are 11 of them who never leave the convent, and the priests here celebrate Mass for them twice a week. Since they are cloistered, when I celebrate Mass there are a set of bars that divide us, and during communion they open a little window so that I can give them the Body of Christ. After Mass yesterday, they had prepared breakfast for me. Now I thought that they were going to have breakfast with me, but no, they prepared a little table for me on the other side of the bars of their gathering area and handed me my breakfast through a turnstile. They make a mean hot chocolate by the way. So these beautiful nuns just sat there watching me, eat and we talked about everything under the sun especially about the new, bigger convent that they are in the process of building in the Redlands (if you want to read more on this endeavor and how you can help them, click here: http://www.monasteriodelasantisimatrinidad.org). I told them stories about the parish that they didn’t know and we shared some great laughs. Before we knew it, 90 minutes had passed since I had sat down at the table. Time is almost meaningless to these sisters. They celebrate Mass and pray very slowly. They’re never in a hurry whereas I always seem to be in a hurry. Even though I didn’t want to leave, I feared that I was interfering with their daily schedule, so as I was taking my leave of them, they greeted me with the words, “Praise be Jesus Christ” and kissed my hand. The Mother Superior held on to my right hand with great love and said to me, “When I was little girl in Mexico, my mother taught me to always kiss the hands of the priest to remind them that their hands are consecrated and that those are the hands that feed us.”
It’s amazing what happens to a priest when he leaves his office. In fact, I believe I spent a grand total of 3 minutes in my office yesterday and it was only to retrieve personal mail. Those experiences yesterday were humbling because they serve as a reminder that my primary mission as your pastor is to anoint and to feed you. Pope Francis reminded us of this in his Holy Thursday homily last year. Yet we are all called to be the hands of Jesus Christ. We are called to feed our brothers and sisters especially those in need. Every day Eucharistic Ministers go off to homes and hospitals to take the Body of Christ to the sick. Every Tuesday and Thursday, our food pantry gives the poor families of our community food to put on their tables (by the way, they are running low on food so next time you’re at Publix or Sedano’s, pick up a couple of the items listed in our bulletin and drop them off in the office for our pantry.) The food that comes down from heaven is meant to be shared, and God gives us an abundance of food because in the gospel all ate and were satisfied. Today we must pray that we may hunger more for Him, that we heed his invitation to come to him to drink and to eat, and that we realize that we are called to feed those around us not only the poor, but also the poor in spirit that need to be fed the living word of God. Which brings me to my last story:
The people in our neighborhood do not know Jesus Christ. This was hammered home to me yesterday afternoon when I went to get a haircut after leaving the convent at a barber shop a couple of blocks away. I walked in wearing my roman collar, but unbuttoned because so I could be confortable under the apron. I asked for a simple haircut which is the same one I’ve basically had since I was 2 years old. Yet the barber proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes sculpted the edges of my hair very carefully with trimmers and razors “to make my look younger” he said. Finally as the time kept ticking away and I saw other customers walk in, get there hair cut and walk out, he finally asked me what I wanted him to do with my sideburns. A little exasperated by now, I told him, “Dude, I’m a priest. I’m not trying to impress anyone with my hairstyle.” He looked at me funny as if he didn’t understand what I was saying. When I finally got up, I purposely went to the mirror and buttoned my top button and put on my collar in plain view of everyone. The barbers looked perplexed, not knowing what to make of me, and I walked out wondering if they even knew what a priest was. But it didn’t end there, as I drove to the end of the strip mall, there was a carwash and I rolled my window down to ask how much it cost so I could bring it on Monday. The guy told me to bring it tomorrow (Sunday) since they are open at 8am. I kind of made sure that my collar was visible and told him that I kinda work on Sundays. He kept insisting that I bring it it on Sunday morning, and finally I grabbed my collar by its white tab and I said, “DUDE! I am a priest! I work on Sundays.” He gave me the same perplexed look that my barber gave me. If they don’t know Jesus Christ, they definitely don’t know anything about the Church ,which means they probably know nothing about priests. My friends, it is up to us. God is calling us to feed those around us in this very neighborhood. May our response to God’s call be like that little old lady that I visited yesterday who without hesitation responded to my call saying, “Whatever you want!” (And rest assured I’ll be at the carwash tomorrow morning patiently waiting for my car with a Roman Collar on. Who knows? I may even wear my cassock. Takin it to the streets!)