Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hemingway Loved Cats

I learned tonight that Hemingway loved cats, which prompted me to some armchair literary criticism.

I have been a fan of Ernest Hemingway for many years.  I read The Old Man and the Sea and I was hooked.  I had no idea what it was about, I just knew that there was something more that he wanted to say with that piece that floated beneath the surface of the novella.  While working in the Hole in the Wall Bookstore at Wall Drug on a boring summer day, I happened across a copy of his, The Dangerous Summer.  It was odd to find fiction of this sort in a store devoted to literature about the Western Portion of the USA.  With wanton disregard for the strict policy against reading the merchandise, I began browsing the introduction to the text, and learned of Hemingway's suicide.  I think I decided then that he was a tortured man.  It would be many years before I finally read Hemingway in a college course and began to understand his writing in its historical context.  For me, Hemingway has always smacked of sadness, disappointment, and broken dreams.  Even at its most positive, his writing is wistful, never satisfied, full of longing.  That, to my mind, is part of his allure.

As a result of my own reading, I was a little taken aback to find that Hemingway lore is surrounded with an aura of machismo.  To my mind, the idea of a passionate yet haunted cat-loving man is not incompatible with the idea of a mountain-climbing, lion-shooting, fisherman.  I am not sure why it comes as a shock to many to learn that Hemingway was a cat lover.  Dog owners, unless the dogs are of the lion-tracking variety, are not well-suited to leave on safari.  Someone has to care for the dogs.  Cats, on the other hand, tend to care for themselves.  They can be left alone for weeks and hardly notice the absence of their owners.  All of the cat and dog debate aside, however, that Hemingway loved his cats simply reiterates to me something that I have always assumed of Hemingway as a result of his writing.

Ernest Hemingway was the instantiation of the idea that the entirety of human life is to be experienced in the passing of a limited number of days, and should those days be marked by pain, he who lives them has been cheated.  For him, it seems to me, life was mostly bitter, punctuated by episodes of pleasure that served principally to momentarily anesthetize one to the bitterness and exacerbate the experience once the pleasure had passed.  And I love his writing because he is so gloriously yet tragically wrong.  Life is good, though punctuated by evil, and is worth living principally because good and evil alike serve to reflect the goodness of life as yet unseen, and intensify one's desire for beatitude yet to come.

Hemingway's cats, "purr factories" and "love sponges," as he called them, made something miserable more pleasant, even bearable.  For me, Hemingway's cats serve to prove that in a world created solely to make me happy, I can hope to be even happier when it ends.  Here's to hoping that Hemingway found in death what he could not seem to bring himself to believe in life.  Rest in peace, Ernest.                

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Beer Fairy

Arriving at my thirty-second year was a lot easier than arriving at my thirtieth year.  It had none of the trauma of realizing that I had left childhood altogether behind.  Rather, as one of my priest brothers reminded me, at thirty-two I have only one year left before I arrive at the age of the crucifixion.  Indeed.  That means that during the coming year, I will perform miracles and everyone will come to recognize me as the Messiah.

I spent my thirty-second birthday in the company of my Caritas brothers.  These three other priests constitute my fraternity group which gathers once per month to pray and share the happenings of our lives together with the goal of recognizing more acutely God's presence and direction in our ministry..  This time one of us was absent, so our group was three.  It was a really a refreshing time.  Rather than spend the evening, as we usually do, watching a movie, we decided that each of us would read the book we had brought with us.  No talking.

I enjoy these little gathering, but I have come to really appreciate the fact that at every gathering, we are visited by the Beer Fairy.

I am not a big drinker.  I never really have been.  I do, however, really enjoy a beer from time to time.  I tend not to buy beer as Msgr. Woster doesn't drink it much, and I avoid drinking alone.  So, it was too my great delight when, while at a Caritas gathering one morning, I stepped outside and discovered a six pack of Grain Belt Premium cooling on the deck of the cabin in Silver City.  No one seemed to know from whence it had come.  We were left to conclude that the Beer Fairy had visited us and left us a gift in our hour of need.  From that time, she has been very good about ensuring that we have beer at every gathering.  She even flew her beer cart alongside Fr. Spark's pick-up one evening to deliver her wares to him as he was on his way to our gathering.  She is most generous.  She never brings too much or too little.  It is always just what we need.  I wonder if she is as generous to all the other priest fraternity groups.    

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wrapping up

Much to my own astonishment, I am packed and ready to catch my taxi at 6:30 AM. Jake is packing as we speak. Both of us have commented that it feels like we've been here forever and for no time at all. But I'm ready to come home. I knew it was time when, while sitting in line to go to confession at the Cathedral, I had to resist the urge to tell everyone that I was a priest and begin hearing confessions right there while I waited. It has been magnificently warm and sunny, and I don't relish returning to the cold, but I miss my people and my work. It's time to go home.

Jake and I spent our last day viewing the templo mayor. It is the remains of the great Aztec temple of sacrifice buried beneath the city center. While the sophistication of that ancient culture is quite amazing, I find myself constantly returning to the fact that these people ATE OTHER PEOPLE. Cannibalism pretty much overrides the positive factors within any culture by my estimation. This element of ancient belief was largely overlooked in the museum exhibits. It's hard to pursue an agenda about wicked colonial oppressors when the people they supposedly oppressed ATE OTHER PEOPLE. I am really not ok with this.

The day was hot. We stopped for a cold coke on the steps of the Cathedral when two girls came to interview us about our thoughts on Mexico. Overlooking the history of cannibalism, I rather like it here. Jake was disappointed that they had pegged us as tourists. I chuckled at that. We are wildly conspicuous We both stand about a head taller than most Mexicans, and I am huge compared to them. I never harbored any suspicion whatsoever that we went about unnoticed. I was just trying to be as little noticed as possible.

A nap, tacos, and an ice cream cone later, I am thinking about going to bed. Tomorrow we fly, and I'm back in the saddle on Thursday. I may have further adventures to report when we arrive stateside. Until then.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Today may have been the best day of our Mexican Adventure to date. Last night was a bit tense. Jake's ATM card was inexplicably not working, I couldn't figure out how to call my Dad to wish him happy birthday (I was finally forced to send a Facebook message), and we needed to get an early start today. I'm not especially good at early starts, so when the hotel room cleaner yelled something incomprehensible as we tried to get moving I was less than amused. Things improved as headed south on the metro toward the city's southern bus terminal. Today's destination: Cuernavaca.

When I studied here nearly ten years ago, I lived in Cuernavaca. I stayed with a family who, at that time, had a son and a daughter of eight and thirteen years respectively. When I contacted the school to arrange for a motel in Mexico school, they were elated to learn that I would be coming to visit.

As it turns out, I should probably just have arranged to stay in Cuernavaca. Aside from becoming horrifically lost when we first arrived, and a slightly terrifying bus ride, we finally found some landmarks I recognized. Soon I was at the school where I was was laughing and hugging and feeling like I had never left.

From the school we wandered to the house where I stayed and joined most of the family for lunch. The mother and daughter of the host family then accompanied us to the local cathedral and artisans market for a bit of shopping. As the afternoon began to wane we stopped for a cool drink and a long talk.

After ten years, how does one answer the question, "How have you been?" I've been great. I've been miserable. Elated and despairing. Astonished and disgusted. How have I been? And so we talked. My conversational Spanish is weaker than it once was, but we managed to muddle through. It felt so natural, and the city itself so peaceful compared to the madness of Mexico City.

It was time to head back to the city much too early. We made our goodbyes. It was easier this time. I'm convinced I will be back to see them again. In today's visit, I found the remedy to the angst I experienced on Saturday. I came to Mexico for the people, and I found them again today. What a lovely way to spend a day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bravo, Toro!

Upon further consideration, I have decided that the bull fight deserves further description.

The sole purpose of a bull fight can be summed up in a single word: bravery. The bull fighting tradition came to Mexico from Spain. Part of the opposition to the practice in Mexico, in fact, arises from the notion that the sport is a cultural imposition from colonial times. Yet, it remains quite popular throughout much of Latin America. It is a sport defined by tradition. For a period before the fight begins, the brass band warms up and then plays to entertain the gathering crowd. This band features the trumpet quite dominantly. Think "cheesy Mexican gun battle movie scene," and you will get the idea.

At precisely 4:30, the band begins a traditional march, and the parade of bull fighters enter the ring. The parade consists of a marshall who leads everyone from atop his horse. Next come the matadors aligned according to seniority. Following them are their cuadrilos, a group of three men with capes who help manage the bull during the various movements of the fight. Behind them come the picadores mounted blindfolded horses covered in thick padding. Second to last comes a team of horses harnessed to a simple doubletree. Finally come the red uniformed men who clean the arena. The parade having ended, the first fighter and his cuadrilo take their places behind blockades in the ring. Gates are flung open and the bull rushes into the light from a dark chute. Until this point, he has been raised as a wild animal. He has been handled as little as possible for his whole life. When he has been handled, he has been encouraged to hate humans. He has been reared from generations of fighting animals. His sole purpose in life is to bravely attack anything in the ring until he kills them or they kill him. This is his moment of glory.

In the ring, the members of the cuadrilo work the bull with large magenta and gold capes as the matador watches seeing habits of the bull - the direction he prefers to turn, the horn with which he most often hooks, his speed, etc . . .

After a few passes, the picador, carrying a lance enters the ring. His job is to stab the bull at the base of the neck, weakening those muscles so that he has to drop his head as he charges. A trumpet call marks the end of this period, and the beginning of the banderilleros. Carrying two short darts about a foot long, these men rush the bull as he rushes them. They must reach over the horns, place their darts, and rush away without getting gored. Three sets of darts are placed. It is now time for the matador to work the bull. He must use his short red cape to provoke the bull, controlling the passes as the bull brings his horns within centimeters of the matador's body. The fight reaches its climax when the matador kills the bull with a sword, inserting it between vertebrae severing the spinal cord and piercing the bull's heart. He doesn't often accomplish this perfectly, but once inserted, the sword quickly kills the animal.

Though brutal, these fights are a thing of grace. They are a show of bravery by bull and fighter alike. Both look death in the face, and without blinking, try to inflict the same on the other. If this were just about killing, it would be cruel, perhaps even a sin. But the killing is not the point. The point is the grace, the elegance of brute force and years of practice. It is a dance, a beautiful dance. Perhaps not for everyone, the bull fights have won me over. I hope to see them again.


When I was here last time, I watched the bull fights every Sunday on television after Mass. I never had the opportunity to see one live. Today we made up for that. Call them what you will: artful, cruel, graceful, barbaric, they are an amazing experience of Mexico. The plaza de toros seats about 50,000 people. Because of dwindling popularity due to animal rights activists, the arena was quite empty today, but there were still plenty of Mexicans to drink, swear, and cheer the bull and torreros (Olé!). I have photos and video. I will upload videos when I get home.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

There Are Places I Remember

I've always been of the opinion that televised sports are a waste of time. While I cannot condone the mass slaying of innocent people, I must admit that I haven given serious thought to which group of people I would systematically exterminate were I to become a ruthless dictator (It is important to note that I am speaking purely hypothetically. All ruthless dictators persecute some group, usually poets, musicians, university professors, and philosophers.). Any variety of people would be worthy of my wrath, but one group really stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of their sheer vexatious presence in the world. Given the opportunity, sport commentators would go first. They make the already dreary business of television sports watching into a truly painful experience, none more so than football. Thus, I decided to make myself scarce this afternoon as Jake immersed himself in the tedium of the Broncos game which is inexplicably being aired on Mexican television. It is probably best that I begin with the first part of the day, though.

This morning, after a late breakfast, Jake and I got lost. Our destination was the Church of the Holy Family where the mortal remains of Blessed Miguel Pro rest. Fr. Pro was a Jesuit priest who zealously ministered to Catholics in Mexico City during the the bloody persecution against the Church by President Plutarco Elias Calles. His despotism prompted the Cristero Wars during which thousands of faithful Catholics shed their blood in witness to their faith. As it was impossible for Pro to minister publicly, he became a master of disguise, moving about the city under the guise of an aristocratic gentleman, a clown, a beggar, and even as a federal soldier. He was ultimately captured and falsely convicted of a plot to bomb the president. Though the true culprit confessed to the crime, Pro was executed by machine gun. Before death, he was given the opportunity to pray. Upon rising, he spread his arms in the form of the cross and loudly proclaimed before the machine guns fired, "Viva Cristo Rey!" "Long live Christ the King!" Bl. Miguel Pro is one of my great heroes. It was deeply important to me to pray at his resting place. The problem was that I didn't know where that place was. Some Internet research and an examination of my maps gave me a pretty fair notion of where to find the Church. A short metro ride brought us within walking distance. But we walked the wrong direction. For a long time. When we finally came to the end of the street we were following, I threw in the towel and hailed a taxi. The driver also didn't know where the Church was, but I was able to give enough information to give him a rough idea. He got us there in no time - about five blocks from where we left the metro. Oh well. We spent a long time praying at Fr. Pro's relics. I touched my rosary to the reliquary. I prayed for all sorts of people, especially those seeking the virtues of courage and trust. I prayed that I would serve my own people so faithfully.

Leaving the Church as a wedding began, we made our way to the metro. Upon disembarking, we stopped in the city center to watch some Aztec dancers, and then wandered our way back to the motel so that Jake could watch his silly football game. I endured this long enough to answer some emails and the like, and then I lit out.

What a terrible afternoon not to carry my camera, but I wanted to travel light, as inconspicuously as possible, and without anything worth stealing on my person. Mexico City comes alive on weekends. The work week having ended, it is time for pachango. Octavio Paz, a rather significant Mexican author, talks about pachango "partying" as one of the odd dichotomies within the Mexican psyche. Mexicans do not share a healthy fear of death like their neighbors to the north. They live dangerously, they drive dangerously, they eat dangerously. One need look no further than the bull fights for evidence. For them, death is an inevitability of life, and it is likely coming sooner rather than later. It is a a terrible reality, but a universal one, thus giving many Mexicans a rather macabre sense of humor. Death, as an ever immanent threat, inspires within the people of this country, then, the inspiration to live life while one still has life to live. As a result, any reason (a Saturday in January for instance) is a good enough reason to celebrate. Today the streets around the motel are crowded with people and with other people trying to make a living entertaining them. The bars are packed. The restaurants are packed, and in any location big enough to permit it, musicians and other performers have set up shop collecting donations for the amusement they provide. Wandering around, I found a small band playing classic Mexican songs. As they passed, older couples would pause, smile, and kiss for a while. Some would dance. A crown gathered to watch. Further down the street, a team of male jump ropers did amazing acts of acrobatics all while hopping the rope. My favorite, however, was a guitar player equipped with a microphone and speakers. He seemed to specialize in American hits from the 60s and 70s. "Stairway to Heaven," "Dust in the Wind," "Hound Dog", and George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord (Hare Krishna)" were among the songs he played and sang. With a great voice and tremendous playing skill, I could have listened to him all afternoon, but somehow it was clear that I needed to move on after he sang "In My Life" by the Beatles:

"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all."

I am truly loving my time here, but in a sense it is a goodbye tour. When last I was here, I was younger, afraid, a little radical in my worldview, and desperately in need of an experience capable permitting me to prove that I could do it. Mexico did that. In a way, I conquered her just by surviving for ten weeks without anyone to take care of me. Coming back, Mexico is full of memories, and I feel in some ways like I fit here as a hand in a glove. I am still moved by the charm and the magic of this place and its people. But, my reasons for being here are different. I am using her this time around. I came because she is warm and far from home. Last time, I came not knowing what to expect. This time I have all sorts of expectations. I am, as a result, a stranger here as I was not when I came last time. Mexico, I find, has become a part of me, a part that helped me grow into a man. By returning and expecting her to be equally meaningful simply as a place of recreation, detracts from what happened here the first time. So, tomorrow and in the days that follow, I think I will have fewer expectations. I will walk more. I will linger more where I find people congregating. I will let Mexico be new to me again.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Don't Buy It Here. It's Cheaper on the Bus

Mexico is a land of revolutionaries. Pancho Villa, Emeliano Zapata, and Benito Juarez are just a few of the notable names inscribed in the revolutionary history of Mexico. Something of that same revolutionary spirit lives on in the hearts of Mexicans today. On the one hand, they are a long suffering people who endure unbelievable suffering at the hands of a corrupt municipal, state, and federal government. On the other hand, they are not wont to take injustice laying down. They react. As a result, Mexico City has a nearly constant parade of protesters marching down one street or another. These manifestaciónes, as they are called here, do not often attract a large crowd. Thus, yesterday, after publishing the last post, a small manifestación passed beneath our window. It was over before it began, really.

We passed last evening quietly. Dinner at a nearby restaurant that caters to the tourist crowd and some American TV managed to occupy us for several hours. I did a little research planning for today's outing to Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan is an ancient city whose foundation dates to about 500 years before the birth of Christ. Around the time Islam was arriving on the scene in Arabia, the city had become a geopolitical center of the region, and as Spain was being invaded by the Moors, Teotihuacan had become one of the five largest cities in the world. Then, about a century and a half later, the city was abandoned. No one knows why, and little, aside from what I have described, is known of its occupants. The Aztecs would later give the city it's current name, and develop legends about the city. Many revered it as the city of the god, Quetzlcoatl, who was driven from Mexico, but who promised to return one day. That promise was eventually fulfilled in the person of Hernan Cortez who initiated the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Today Teotihuacan remains the most complete set of ancient ruins in the New World. With pyramids dedicated to the sun, the moon, and a temple to Quetzlcoatl, it sits upon a vast park of about twelve square miles. Tourists generally access the site by bus, which is exactly what Jake and I did. To get to the bus, however, required a subway trip.

Mexico City's metro system should be classified as one of the wonders of the world. As I noted yesterday, the city is sinking. As a result, the metro system must be light enough to avoid sinking as well. It must be heavy enough, though, so as to avoid buoyancy and rising up into the city's streets and such. It is a wonder of physics that the system works and that the tracks do not shift. Even more wondrous is the fact the the system is incredibly fast, safe, easy to navigate, and scandalously cheap. Two pesos (less than twenty cents) will take a rider nearly any location in the city. The system handles around five million passengers each day. In other words, it does about a million dollars worth of work each day.

The only problem with the metro is that it can be very crowded, and lots of vendors get on a peddle their wares in the cars as one travels. Most typically they sell music, which means they blast sample songs from enormous speakers they carry around in backpacks. What a way to make a living...

Mexico is terribly poor, but I was a little taken aback today as I considered the fact that one can do nearly anything to make money here. In America a man with a guitar, aside from the precious few who be one famous, has a hobby, not an occupation. The same is not true here. With little regulation enforcement in most industries, people make a living in All sorts of unorthodox ways. Some sell fruit to people in cars are red lights. Some paint decals on the same cars (its pretty cool to watch this process). Others do on board entertainment for bus passengers. Having survived the subway, we finally found ourselves aboard a bus bound for Teotihuacan. The driver stopped at various points along the route to let peddlers aboard so that they could sell water, Coke, peanuts and sundry other foodstuffs. The best of these stops, however, produced a guitarist who played and sang at some length. I have video of him which I will put on Facebook since my phone will not allow me to add videos to the blog. We were treated to such classics as "Mi Árbol y Yo," and "I Just Called to Say I Love you."

The ruins themselves were astonishing. We spent several hours walking and climbing, and avoiding yet more peddlers of souvenirs. The Temple of the Sun nearly killed me (I have no love for stairs to begin with. I especially have no love for 2500 year old stairs with flimsy hand rails, and which are occupied by lovers from all continents climbing up so that they can make out on top of an ancient holy site), so I remained below when Jake climbed the temple of the moon. Following his descent, I finally broke and purchased a blanket to replace one that has inexplicably disappeared since my last trip. the vendor and I argued about the price at some length, and I still think he got more than he deserved, but I guess I do not have to make a living selling the things.

The rest of the day was spent making our way home. Dinner this evening was at a nearby restaurant featuring local food of a more sophisticated variety. I don't know about Jake, but I could have done without it. Give me beans and tacos.

Tomorrow will be a resting day. We plan to see the tomb of Blessed Miguel Pro, and then Jake HAS to watch the Broncos game. I expect I will go watch people in the Zocalo while he does that. Anyway, for now, enjoy these pictures.

Oh, by the way, it was hot today. I got a sunburn. So did Jake.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


True happiness is only to be found in heaven, but real Mexican tacos come close. I'm writing now as Jake and I take a little time for siesta.

Earlier today, after waking up late, we wandered to the city center and visited the local Cathedral. It is a massive building resting atop the ruins of ancient Aztec temples. The missionaries did this quite intentionally. There would be no false worship or cannibalism under their watch. They unapologetically wiped out the ancient faith.

The Cathedral is a bit of an architectural oddity. The ancient Aztec city upon which the modern metropolis was built started out as a lake. The Spaniards and Aztecs filled it in. Unfortunately, the city is now sinking. The Cathedral is good example of this phenomenon. One have to step down nearly a foot from street level to enter the building. The plumbob hangs from the dome with marks in the floor below demonstrating the degree to which the building has sunk.

Having prayed for a time we wandered and decided to eat at the first restaurant we found. I ordered fried fish. It was not nearly so good as the fish I found in Poland but it was food at least. And we had complimentary chicharones (pork rinds) as we waited. From lunch we wandered a bit more and then caught a taxi to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She, more than anything else, symbolizes what it is to be Mexican. Her appearance in Mexico as a native woman marked the conclusion to the era of evangelization for this country. After her, everyone was Catholic.

She is beautiful. The tilma bearing her image remains fully in tact after 500 years. The shrine which houses it is enormous so as to fit the crowds who come to see her. The entire grounds of the shrine still atop the hill of Tepeyac where she first appeared, are well kept and lovely. We stayed at the shrine for a long time praying, taking the sun, and wandering shop after shop full of souvenirs. Subtlety is not one of the classic characteristics of Mexican decor. Much of what we looked at would likely be characterized by Americans as gaudy or garish. But it is deeply Mexican. I got a real kick out of it.

Our taxi ride back to our motel was expensive. The driver refused to negotiate. We probably should have taken the metro (there will still be plenty of time for that), but the taxi was faster. Aside from a near collision with a bus, it was relatively uneventful. The driver did his best to describe the various monuments to be seen along the way while evading death in the midst of Mexico City traffic.

Leaving the taxi, I spotted a taco stand where I thoroughly enjoyed some exquisite authentic food. And now, I'm going to take a nap before going out for dinner later.

Here are some pictures from today:

We Are Here

The idea of going to Mexico City was a plan that began to germinate nearly a year ago as I was surfing Orbitz and pining to take a trip. Almost ten years ago I spend ten weeks studying in the city of Cuernavaca and I have longed to return ever since. On a whim, I checked ticket prices to Mexico City. They were as cheap as I had ever seen, so I began looking for some traveling companions. Surely someone else wanted to go. I was mostly wrong. Apparently there is a drug was going on and travelers are likely to be shot at. "Nonsense," I would retort. "That's mostly on the border and in the rural areas. The center of the country is safe." Nevertheless, few were interested. By September I had found three willing participants for the adventure (none of whom are actually here with me), and ticket prices had fallen even further. I bit the bullet, bought tickets and waited for my would be companions to get on board. They largely failed to do so. Jake, who is currently sitting on the other bed in our motel room, came to my rescue. And so, here we are.

Our planes were mostly on time all day yesterday. Rapid City to Denver to Houston to Mexico City. Customs was a breeze. Our luggage was waiting for us and fully in tact. We exchanged money at the airport (a terrible exchange rate, but the best way to do it until we found an ATM). Taxi service to the motel (the motel reservation was arranged by personnel from the school where I studied when I was here before) was easily acquired. We were in our rooms by about 10:00 yesterday evening. Finally we ate at the motel restaurant. Sopes, one of my favorite Mexican dishes were on the menu. They are a thick fried tortilla with beans and chorizo, avocado, lettuce, Mexican cheese, and green salsa. They were heavenly. Jake ate a more modest pasta dish.

Supper eaten, bottled water acquired from the convenience store across the street, we updated Facebook as to our safe arrival and passed out.

Today is wide open. We will probably go visit the city center and see what's happening and have a slow day as we adjust to the altitude. A taco stand lunch and perhaps a visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe this afternoon. It doesn't much matter to me. I'm in Mexico where it is warm and sunny*. It feels like I remember. It smells like I remember. It is good to be here.

*Sunny is a relative term given the cloud of smog that covers the city on most days. The city sits in a bowl in the mountains. There is no place for the pollution to go.

The pictures are from outside our motel room window.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


It is warm in Mexico.  It almost never snows except high in the mountains and on the volcano tops.  They have good food.  They have tequila.  They have bullfights.  They have Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed Miguel Pro.  I am going there tomorrow.  I will return in a week.  I will try to post updates here.   

Making a Difference

An Unexpected Homemade Christmas Gift
There is virtue, I suppose, in doing something only because I must, not because I get something out of it.  Certain seasons, however, bring with them temptations to shirk one's responsibilities.  Advent and Lent, for instance, are the seasons during which parishes typically host communal reconciliation services.  Though I like hearing confessions, I really do not like these events.  They seem to foster the sentiment that confession is a simply a semi-annual event for which the faithful ought to save up their sins, and I dread listening to the droning homilies of my brothers as we go through the Liturgy of the Word at the beginning of each service.  Moreover, with the multitudes of penitents at these services, one becomes tempted, during regularly scheduled confession times, to sneak out a little early.  What difference will five minutes make?

In the last couple of weeks, five minutes would have made all the difference in the world.  On two separate occasions penitents came to the confessional after decades away.  Had I left early, and they found the confessional empty, they would likely not have come back.  I was there.  I freed them of their sins.  I made a difference.

Similarly, I went to the hospital to visit the mother of one of our RCIA candidates.  The daughter plans to join the Church at Easter.  Until my visit, her mother had no religious affiliation.  She is dying.  I offered that she could be fully initiated into the Church, receive the sacraments and be prepared to meet the Lord.  She accepted.  She is now a Catholic, and when she dies she will go to meet her maker having been fully prepared with every grace the Church can offer her.  She will receive a Catholic burial, even as her daughter still toils away in RCIA classes.  I made a difference.  

Perhaps most notably, this season, though, has been a young man with whom I am acquainted.  I am not sure what I did for him.  I just get a kick out of him.  A few days ago he brought me a gift he had made: a handmade pottery pitcher that his mother told me he had been working on for months.  It is beautiful, and the detail is painstaking.  The gift was unexpected, and to my mind undeserved, and yet, he gave it.  Apparently I made a difference.

In truth, though, it was not I who made the difference.  In each of these cases, it was Christ.  He, for reasons unknown to me, chose me to be a vehicle through whom He would work in the world.  All I have to do is get my own bumbling humanity out of the way and obey Him whose I have been made - to be there when I say I will be there - and Christ will minister to the hearts of His people.  And that makes all the difference.   

Merry Christmas 2012

This year's Christmas Letter: 



Each year as Advent commences I find myself reminding parishioners that as Christians, we have spent more than two thousand years awaiting the return of the Messiah, the Holy One of God, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years is a long time to wait, but as St. Peter reminds us in his second epistle, Our Lord tarries not because He is delayed, but rather, because the longer He waits in returning, the longer we have to take advantage of the invitation to grace He has extended to each of us.  Our waiting, then, is not marked by foot-tapping impatience, but rather, it ought to induce us toward the flurry of last minute preparations prior to the arrival of an honored guest.

It is not accidental that I use the word flurry; it seems well-suited to the style of life to which I am becoming accustomed in my new assignment.  The three parishes for which I now share pastoral responsibility with Msgr. Woster are exceedingly busy parishes.  With Mass schedules, confession schedules, meetings, social occasions, and the like, I find that I spend an inordinate amount of time behind my steering wheel.  I have grown to appreciate my day off in a way I had not known previously.  The needs of the parishes have, to my chagrin, preserved the lives of a great many trout and pheasants in the last several months.  In place of these pleasures, I have forgiven thousands of sins, I have fed multitudes with the Body of Our Lord, and I have escorted many of the dying to the gates of Heaven.  It seems a fair trade. 

It would be dishonest to give the impression that  I have had less than my fair share of leisure.  Several trips out to hunt, a fall vacation to Minnesota, and an upcoming trip to Mexico are more than the Lord affords to most people.  Likewise, I have been readily welcomed into the homes and into the lives of so many of my new parishioners.  I find myself remarking often, “Why wouldn’t everyone want to be a priest?”  Indeed, why would everyone not want the opportunity to witness God at work while sharing in the joys and heartbreaks of an individual or a family?
In the meanwhile, the Lord asks that I abandon myself more and more to Him.  As is typical, I hear the call and I resist, stubbornly insisting that I have everything under control.  How quickly I forget the abundance of the Lord’s generosity!  The Lord has never asked me for anything which, when given, was not rewarded with something better in return.  Why, hard heart of mine, do you resist?  And yet, I do resist.  The frailty of my humanity, burdened by the blindness of my sin and folly, knows not even how to desire the thing it wants the most.  Thus, our Lord tarries.  He waits for me to convert, to turn around, to embrace Him, just as when, in the fullness of time, He embraced my humanity when He condescended to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin and born in the poverty of a stable.

So, as Advent moves to Christmas, and as 2012 becomes 2013, and as I continue to try to become more and more the priest I have been called to be, know of my prayers for you.  Thank you for your kind sentiments, and your own prayers on my behalf.  You are among the countless blessings the Lord has given to me.  May all of God’s richest blessings be yours this holy season.

In Christ,

Fr. Tyler Dennis