Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 16, 2006
All in good time Fr. Johnson
God has a way of smoothing out a priest's day
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Sometimes when I'm out in the communities in Guatemala I get a flashback, like d‚j… vu, of my childhood in Donnelly, a small village in the Peace River country when the Church was strong and all encompassing.
The priest was highly respected and the people faithfully flocked to the Church and very devotedly attended Mass.
And when it rained, our claim to fame was that here was the muddiest place in Alberta.
The day begins
On a recent Sunday, I drove to Las Pacayas, an hour away. The local leaders had insisted that a Mass be celebrated that Sunday as it was the fiesta of the community. I got there at 9:30 a.m. with time to spare to prepare and be available for confessions.
The problem was that there hardly was a soul to be seen, except for a few tents where pop and junk food was served. It was also very muddy which enhanced the recollection of home in my youth in Alberta's Peace River country.
People eventually came and the 10 a.m. Mass finally started at 11:30 after a long session in the confessional. I was a bit annoyed as I had a Mass scheduled at Jumuc at noon, a half-hour away with six weddings on the menu.
I had to talk to myself a bit and just relax, move into the rhythm that was and not fret, just let it be. And as a result everything turned out just fine. We took the time to baptize half a dozen babies after the homily. We also married two couples who responded positively to the idea of living countless years together.
Many asked to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before Mass began which partly contributed to the 90-minute delay. After the final blessing, I turned down the breakfast they offered me and within minutes I was in the pickup and running.
I drove for a half-hour, parked the truck by the roadside and walked another half-hour to Jumuc where a long line of children and several adults were waiting for Confession. This was to prepare for their Confirmation they will receive when the bishop will celebrate Mass and administer Confirmation in Chicam n in a few weeks.
Nothing was mentioned of the fact that I was an hour and a half late. As is customary, the people invited me for lunch and coffee. I declined as for me every minute counted as I had 3 p.m. Mass to celebrate at La Cruz and it was already 1:30.
A crowded agenda
The leaders brought me to a classroom nearby where I was to hear confessions of young people preparing for Confirmation. I also found out that a good number of them were also to make their First Communion that afternoon.
I talked to myself again and a bit also to the Lord and went to work. After over an hour of listening to confessions in the Poconchi language that I do not understand - hoping that God did - we were all ready for the liturgy.
All went well except that when I came to proclaim the Gospel, I realized that I did not have my homily with me. In the shuffle to get away in Las Pacayas I must have forgotten it on the lectern. What was I to do? Well, I adlibbed my first homily in Spanish. It was also my shortest homily of some 40 years of preaching. Mercifully so, for the majority of the people did not understand Spanish.
After Mass, again I declined the meal they had prepared and rushed away to the 3 p.m. Mass at La Cruz, some 45 minutes away. The Toyota served me well and as a result, I was only two hours late. I expected that the Mass would be cancelled and the people long gone home, now busily preparing supper.
I was in for a surprise. La Cruz is a small rural community, but it seemed as if everybody was there waiting for over two hours for the priest to show up. I apologized to the crowd outside the church and to those inside as well, but no one seemed annoyed. For the people who get one Mass every two months because of the 70 communities Father Sergio and I serve, waiting a couple of hours more is nothing.
As I result, I was busy in the confessional - actually a lone chair beside the altar. I have yet to see a confessional in these communities. I suppose they can't afford such luxury. So there I was next to the altar, facing the people, with the penitents kneeling in front of me, casually using my knees as an armrest as they confessed their sins.
All in God's time
After some 45 minutes, all were ready to begin the scheduled 3 p.m. Mass at 5:30. There was lots of joy in the air. People sang with great gusto. We celebrated a Baptism and a wedding as well. I improvised a short homily, but still Mass took an hour and a half.
It was as if people couldn't get enough. An image came to me: that of a starved people enjoying their first good meal in a long time and wishing for the feast to go on.
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