Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Sacrament of Grief: V

This is Part V. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.


“Cristo ... brucia e trasforma il male ... nel fuoco del suo amore sofferente.” [8]

José had called the missionaries before the murders, telling them they were not welcome in his home anymore; he did not want them to come back. Newspapers later reported that his motive was jealousy of the time his wife devoted to the church. These descriptions, and what came after, still make no sense to me. I had been in their home, shared meals with them. With my questionable Spanish and Tiago’s occasional translation we were able to communicate pretty well, though there was frequent confusion and laughter. We saw them together at church meetings, peeking into the room where the elders in the Portuguese program taught their Sunday school class. José was fair haired and worked as a carpenter, bringing to mind occasional comparisons with Jesus that I never did say aloud. During the visit I used to wish I could forget, he had become wistful about his home, tearing up while showing us a video of his mom and the house he’d grown up in before coming to the States. He served us a jelly-like candy he had received in a care package, made––I think––from guava. Cutting translucent wedges out of the soft, dark wheel in the green tin, it was too sweet for me, but seemed to match the exotic flora surrounding the tilled fields of his native soil visible on the television screen.

When we left later that evening, I felt what had become, if not common, then at least familiar during the past year. Talks and discussions of Mormon missionary service frequently mention “loving the people,” which sounds like a general feeling of warmth for the segment of humanity you live with and attempt to talk to for two years. But that isn’t true. At least it wasn’t for me. You don’t love “the people,” you love Matt and Beatrice and Joshua, and worry and hope that the ward will be good to them when you’ve gone. You love Elder Robson both for splurging to go halvsies with you on a proper tree to decorate, and for that strange episode when you dissected the baseball together. (And for deciding that you would accompany him in a guitar/piano hymn improvisation for Zone Conference––which rocked, by the way. And for spending fully half of your MSF one month on parking tickets.) You love Elder Paulsen for eating balut with you which nobody had said needed to be cooked, and for not being vindictive when, after choking them down raw, he got so sick and you didn’t. You love Margie, the less-active sister who was always bubbly and sweet, and also completely out of her mind. You love Gary and Susan and wish they would figure out prayer. Much later, you’ll learn that you still haven’t figured out prayer, and feel a belated sense of sympathy, and hope that someday they’ll forgive you for all your impatience and certainty and immaturity. You love Brother and Sister Blanco for their perpetual kindness and for that amazing Christmas dinner that made you forget the waves of homesickness you believed you would drown under. You love a hundred faces you can no longer put a name to, even though you prayed for them and ached for them until you thought that you had finally run out of places inside that could hurt; a hundred men and women who opened up a sliver of their lives to you. And, God help you, you love José––who wept for his home, as you had––who got up morning after morning, took his tool-belt and his hammer to try to build a new life for his family––who, one day, by only two brutal strokes with the same hammer, shattered that life forever––who turned himself in the same night, cradling his baby son, hands and clothing still wet with blood.


[8] “Christ ... burns and transforms evil ... in the fire of his suffering love.” Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 18 April 2005.

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