Diary of a ghetto priest | On the Religious Brotherhood - Part II
What is our daily work? At 8:15 a.m., we go to the centres. We would have had the Daily Sacrifice of the Mass and other prayers. The brothers are totally dedicated to service of the poorest without any financial salary or physical goods. No one owns or receives anything that they can use for themselves or their family members.
"This week has been a busy week, Father. Two men died of HIV, Rudolph and Steve. Also, three days later a woman named Joy died." Brother Alphonse is bright eyed and enthusiastic as ever.
"They came to us just a week or 10 days before they died," he paused to explain. What happened to both men Rudolph and Tyrone, is that their immune system had broken down. Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) could not keep them any longer. They were bedridden and each one was occupying a bed. They had been admitted to KPH and were given medication. But they could not survive. One had cancer and the other diabetes.
Despite the wonder drug given to HIV patients, the HIV - virus never leaves them. Finally they succumb to it, they weaken and then die. Sometimes an HIV patient lives for many years, but cast off in the streets, the brothers take them in. But once the CD4 count goes below 500, you know they will die. Normally the CD4 count is over 600 to one 12,000."
Brother Alphonse continued, "If the patient takes the medication regularly and eats properly, and lives properly, he or she can live for a long while, 20 to 30 years.
"As you know Father, we build coffins ourselves. We bury them at May Pen Cemetery. To the last day they die, they are our brothers. Just before Tyrone ended we talked to him about heaven, about Christ, about the resurrection." Brother Alphonse paused, "likewise, we reminded Rudolph about the love of God. He wept and told us the story of his life, his looseness and slackness. Then he told us of the hatred his mother had for him.
"I listened to them. There was so much sadness and suffering in their hearts."
"You really believe that Jesus forgives me?" asked Rudolph.
"Yes, (I said), Then he slumped down in the wheelchair and died."
Brother Alphonse said, "I am happy to be a brother - a brother to all men: feeding them; clothing them; cleaning, counselling them."
Being a brother is most unusual. He is truly a brother to the poorest and most forgotten. Not even a priest can do that, he has other obligations to fulfil. That's why MOP is a brotherhood.
Without Christianity, the greatest civilising force over the last 2,000 years, our world could be in total darkness and confusion. The single figure of Christ defies the macho image of man. Christ is our brother who cured and healed; Jesus who fed and gave water, who healed and comforted. Jesus who never took anything for himself, and did not change stone into bread for himself, nor did he come down from the cross but suffered and died for us. He showed us the true meaning of service, sacrifice and love. That's the culture of Jamaica: Christ, our hero, our suffering servant, Christ our brother the reality of what manhood is all about (ecce homo) and the reality of what the true God must be, lover of the poor, lover of the suffering, lover of sinners.
In today's world, there is a call for a plurality of gods, whether Muslim, Ba'al, Zionism, or Christianity. We make into god, the image of the one that is most convenient to our weaknesses and our strengths, the one who satisfies our drives and desires above all others. In other words, we build idols to suit ourselves. Finally, I believe, it all ends up in Hedonism, the satisfaction of our fleshly selves - materialism and paganism.
There cannot be a God of the spirit and then a god of the flesh. The spirit or the soul lasts forever, the body is with us just temporarily. When this flesh of ours corrupts, which it must happen to every single one of us, the spirit flies away to the heavenly Kingdom of God, to dwell with almighty, his son Jesus and all the saints. We will also be with all the angels and be with the Holy Spirit. The flesh would have decayed and be lost forever.
Oneness of hearts and mind, sharing goods, serving each other unto death and especially the least of our brothers - bring about a sacrificial life which is exemplified in that everlasting imagery of Christ crucified on the cross for all of us who are such sinners. Christ is really our brother first of all, and a priest secondarily.
What have I come to know in Jamaica? A brotherhood that I did not experience in the United States of America (USA). In the USA, the image of the rugged individual exemplified in the John Wayne type or the Elizabeth Taylor symbolism of woman, or the Bill Gates billionaire all have triumphed over the common man. There is no brotherhood.
Individualism exhibited as the greatest and best - having everything, alone and needing nobody else, personalities that are so extraordinary no one else could ever be or achieve. Everyone is forced to see them and know them. I desire to be like them. They are heroes of the American dream which we should all seek to emulate - vain and empty ideals that are without content - incapable of satisfying the deep inner longing for quiet and peace and permanent satisfaction.