Recently I came home after visiting a friend living in a luxurious house in a very fancy neighborhood and I admit I felt relief as I pulled into our modest neighborhood of simple homes. But just the day before I pulled into my driveway with my comadre y ahijadas in my van and I felt a wave of shame run over me. My comadre is from rural Guatemala, raised in the type of poverty we witnessed in Durán. She was so desperate to find a better life, she agreed to come to the United States as the wife of a man she had only ever spoken to on the phone. Now, after 13 years of enduring his abuse, she has finally made the brave move to leave with her four children and start over. She is staying in a shelter for abused women with literally nothing to her name. I felt a stinging sense of guilt as we entered my nice, warm home with a full pantry, where each of my children has their own bed and an over-flowing toy box.
Therein lies the tension: How can we be in solidarity with the poor while living in a country of abundance and excess? Honoring those we were blessed to share life with during our time with Rostro de Cristo amid what Pope Francis warns us are the false prophets of momentary pleasures, the empty dream of wealth and the lie of self-sufficiency. In his message for Lent he writes, “These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end, they only make fools of us.”
Isn’t this what we all experienced when we arrived in Durán? I saw retreat group after retreat group realize that despite all of our freedom, privilege and material goods in the United States, we didn’t have half of the joy, generosity and sense of family unity that our neighbors in Ecuador had. I was always taken aback by the generosity of families that I knew were struggling to pay to fill up their tanques de agua and yet, when a retreat group came for a visit, they would find a few monedas and send their child to go buy a Coke to share.
In this Sunday’s first reading, we hear the story of Abraham and his act of total sacrifice of his only son, foreshadowing the total sacrifice of our loving Father of his only Son. When Abraham offered up all that he had to God, God was able to bless him abundantly. In the second reading, St. Paul assures us of God’s blessing: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:31b-32)
When we offer all that we have back to God, only then can he bless us with the things that truly matter. May this season of Lent be a time to reflect on the false prophets that may have crept back into our lives since our return from Ecuador. As Pope Francis reminds us, “The Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” May our Lenten sacrifices, inspired by the love and generosity we experienced in Durán, bring us to greater solidarity with those in need, both near and far. Trusting in our loving Father, may we dare to give ourselves completely as His instruments to build a more just world.
Patti Gutierrez was an RdC volunteer in AJS from 2002 -2003. She now lives in Kentucky with her family and runs Patti’s Catholic Corner to help Catholic ministries connect with Hispanics at patticc.com.