Diary of a Ghetto Priest | Brother, why do you love me?
In Monroe, North Carolina, our brothers have an MOP (Missionaries of the Poor) home quite different from Jamaica and other missions we have overseas. It is still the same in matters of our monastic life but the apostolate is different, it being in the First World.
Because of legislation, MOP is not able to have homes for the homeless and destitute. Still, it is the poorest of peoples whom we serve in the USA. The law requires for homeless residencies the presence of doctors, nurses, even psychiatrists, in round-the-clock care. Moreover, there has to be air-condition, television, private rooms and bathrooms which we do not have.
There are hundreds of loaves of fresh bread left at our home by Publix; there are vegetables given by Rodriguez Farm, and even meat at times. The brothers have a small vegetable garden with fresh garlic, onions, sweet peppers, okra, carrots, potatoes and eggplants which the poor harvest free of cost for their families. All our brothers dispense them joyfully.
Our brothers also provide sessions of prayer, exposition of the blessed sacrament, mass, rosary, and catechetical lessons for children and adults. When people are in difficulty or suffer from great grief or fear, they come to the brothers.
The brothers shared an experience with me: "Father, we went to a nursing home in our neighbourhood. There are three homes close to our monastery. We visit all three once per week.
"Today we visited a home; there were 300 people there. We were greeted and welcomed by the residents. The place was neatly set-up. There was food, clothes, chairs, single rooms with a bed, a private TV, face basins and toilet, furniture, everything. Everything was clean and tidy.
"We met, in particular, three elderly ladies. They greeted and welcomed us. 'Do you have time to talk with us? Will you sit and spend time with us? Will you tell us about the Lord?'"
Hunger and thirst
Brother Raphael and brother Lito were surprised by their hunger and thirst for the Lord. Brother Raphael explained the first chapter of St John's gospel that recounts how Jesus saw Nathaniel under a fig tree sitting, praying and longing for the Lord. "Jesus knows everything. He sees all you three women longing to meet Him, thirsting to touch Him, hear Him and be with Him. Jesus on His part knows everything. He knows where you are now. He knows all your sufferings and joys. You can't hide from Him. He seeks you out. He knows each of you - everything you desire, everything you suffer from. He is the Son of God come down from heaven."
Then brother Lito gave the Eucharist to each one of them which he carried from the monastery. They were overjoyed. One fell on her knees, another wept and gazed on his face, while the other wept with joy and cried out, "I am blessed! I am pleased! I have received the Lord!" Then all three women fell into silence, filled with the holiness of Christ in the Eucharist.
They were like the chorus of women greeting the risen Lord after His death and resurrection. "I have received the Lord; we were longing for Him. Come now, brothers, and we will celebrate His presence among us. We will share some of the lunch we have been given. We will add some apples and pears." They kissed the hands of the brothers; tears and smiles were on their faces. "Come back every day. Teach us the Word of God. Bring us the Eucharist and come be with us."
The brothers dressed in white habits, with their blue sashes and a rosary around their waists, with a cross around their necks, seem like angels. Brother Raphael and brother Lito explained: "It is a privilege to serve you all. It was good to be present, to share our faith with you and to bring Jesus to you."
Then they explained to me: "Strange, these old ladies enrich us by their gratefulness to have us visit and minister to them. They are the poor in spirit and the humble of heart. We brothers are unworthy sinners but the Lord uses us to provide companionship, family life and brotherhood, and most importantly, the body and blood of Jesus. At this time we found the deep meaning of brotherhood." Brother Raphael continues, "We are bearers of Christ, ambassadors of Christ. These forgotten women - even in this nice and properly run hospice paid for by their family members - did not seem satisfied. 'We needed you,' they tell us. 'Why did you love us? Our family rarely comes.' I am your brother," is the answer I gave.
"Brother Lito and I experienced deep faith; they were waiting for the Messiah. They were in humble expectation for the coming of the Lord.
"Father, we love our ministry here. We have found out the strange and beautiful meaning of Jesus feeding the 5,000 followed by the Eucharist, manna from heaven to feed the soul. That is a deeper need in these spiritually poor and spiritually grateful souls."
Yes, we will continue to care for the Afro-Americans in their one-room apartments. We will continue to visit the white Americans living in their tents.
We are glad to be servants of the Lord. Everywhere we go - even in a rich country like the US - there is hunger for the Divine, a poverty of spirit which only the Lord can fulfill.