Being made unclean in a twisted reality!
As I look back on nearly twenty-four years of varied missionary service and reflecting on 2020, a year which was like something out of Tales of the Unexpected, I am struck by the simple phrase in today’s gospel: the ‘just then’ unexpected moment for the man with an unclean spirit. For the last year we have watched the planet’s masked population find new ways to live through the spread of the coronavirus. Somewhere in all that clutter of life’s struggle we have discovered the need to listen carefully to the important voices of authority for glimmers of desperately needed hope. We anxiously wait in the departure lounge, wondering when it’s time!
Here in São Paulo, it has been terribly different because of perverse politics, government’s insatiable drive to keep business open for economic reasons, and the cutting and burning of Amazon forests; the poorest are shoved into poverty and are living on the threads of misery.
People die in their hundreds daily. A sense of fear and dread affects the poorest in the parish, especially those in the ‘favelas’. Like the man in the Gospel, I feel that Brazil’s poorest are shouting to the authorities: “What do you want to do with us?”/Have you come to destroy us”?
The people were hoodwinked into voting-in those who seek radical change at any cost to start a new chapter in Brazil’s history; irony of ironies! The desperate, poor and abandoned of the peripheries of Brazilian cities – where we Spiritans live and work – witness progressively ‘being made unclean’ by those entrusted to protect them and alleviate their suffering. Money is not Brazil’s problem; rather, the sin of deep-rooted political corruption, of perverse greed, of distorted democracy and of class and racial discrimination. The sin of turning away when the “just then” moment arrives offering an opportunity to act with decisive compassion, and an empowering empathy. The Brazilian context was “Be quiet and stay quiet”, because there is a new teaching that aims at dividing a nation of people with an authority behind it. That is what it seems like here in Brazil for millions excluded and marginalized. Where do they turn?
The gospel shouts aloud, challenging me to recognise Jesus’ authoritative and compassionate presence, his liberating action in restoring a man’s life and community; giving him wholeness, and making him well. One light-bulb moment which came to me during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis was that the worshippers normally filling our church pews to receive the Eucharist have now become part of the food-bank of fraternity and solidarity in the parish, feeding the poorest and those in need: Do this in memory of me!
Given the challenges that we face here in the parish context, we continue to do what is expected of us as Spiritan missionaries: to challenge the uncleanliness of social injustice, to give voice to the truth in action, to build-up the local Christian community and to be witnesses of hope. Let us trust ourselves once again to the saving and liberating power of Jesus.
PS When feeling slightly overwhelmed I find solace in music such as: