The Power of the Poor

August 17, 2006

I finished the Groody book last night (Border of Death, Valley of Life).  I must be a really slow reader – it’s not that long a book…

Anyway, here are the bits that struck me from the final chapter, which focuses on the importance of the Lady of Guadelupe in her revelation to Juan Diego, and specifically how that story is used in a particular mission in California (Coachella) for undocumented immigrants in their spiritual conversion.

“[Juan Diego] saw himself not for what society said that he was, an inferior and illiterate Indian, but for who he really was as a dignified human being, chosen to be the special ambassador of the Mother of God.”

“Deep down, like the immigrants of Coachella, they came to believe that they were not good enough and not worthy enough to be missionaries.”

“At Coachella, however, the immigrants begin to see themselves, probably for the very first time, not according to the stereotypes of society which label as inferior, “alien,” or “illegal,” but as beautiful, intelligent human beings with unlimited talents for doing good.  This is the beginning of their conversion and transformation: when they move from false images of self, based on shallow values of society and discover authentic notions of who they are, based on the knowledge that they are made in the image and likeness of God.”

Wow.  I’ve got to admit that I am having a hard time staying focused on the experience of the undocumented Mexican immigrant in reading this book, because so much of these experiences parallel the spiritual experience of gay and lesbian people.

We have, for so long, been seen by society as inferior.  We have been cast out- called “perverts”, “abominations”, “faggots”, “dykes”, and just about everything else.  We have been attacked, even killed because of who we are.  We fear for our safety.  We are scared of living in ourselves for fear of losing our families, our jobs, our friends.  We are told by society that we are worthless, except for perhaps as the butt of a joke on a sitcom.

When we find a refuge, though, a place like All Saints Pasadena- where the center of the service is a Eucharistic invitation that is so graceful as to say “Whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey of faith you are welcome here”- when we hear that, we can discover ourselves and our calling.  We can find that we do have innate beauty in the image of our creator.  We find that our spirituality is not deficient.  We can reconnect with our creator, looking past the human-made barriers that may have prevented us from doing so in the past.  The internalized homophobia- comparable perhaps in some way to the internalized stereotypes of the Mexican immigrant in Groody’s description, can begin to fall away so that we can see our true selves.  Not as “faggot” or “dyke” but as human.  As loving, compassionate, talented creatures who can love even in the face of hate.

Groody continues:

“The voices of many economically poor people who have left the Catholic Church give testimony to the neglect of Hispanic presence in the community today.”

“Nonetheless, the poor are a principle source of revelation of divine life in society.  It is not simply that the Church reaches out to the poor to convert immigrants, but it is the immigrants, because of their need for and closeness to God, who convert and enrich the Church.”

Amen and amen!  What we all have to learn from each other.  The marginalized have had no choice but to trust in God.  As Rick said in another thread, the Church’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Again- I can so relate to this journey.  It sounds like the immigrants have a spirituality that runs deep but is largely untapped due to neglect by the church.  Gosh, that sounds familiar…  Gays and lesbians often are deeply spiritual, but the spiritual abuse by the church keeps them from tapping into it.

In the story of Guadelupe, the impression of the virgin is left on Juan Diego’s Tilma or mantle.  Groody describes it as “not so much… the changing of a white garment to an icon of the Virgin, but the changing of a bruised and broken people into a reflection of the divine image.”

There is a major theme I have skipped here which is the intermingling of the native culture with the introduced tradition of Christianity.  That, I gather from the book, is really important in cross-cultural evangelism, and of course the early European church intermingled Pagan tradition with Christian tradition to broaden acceptance.  I’m not sure we have a parallel for that in GLBT evangelism/conversion.

I am sure, though, that the marginalization of people anywhere looks to me like it shares certain qualities.  I’ve heard it now from African-Americans in my parish, from the Groody book, and from my own experiences as a gay man in my community.  It is my hope that the church learns from these experiences and incorporates some of the practices that the Coachella mission teaches to ensure that the disenfranchised are embraced rather than held at bay.

j

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2 Responses to “The Power of the Poor”


  1. Jeff,
    Another powerful post. I am so impressed. I am really enjoying your blog

  2. Rick Harris, O.P. Says:

    For an orthodox Episcopalian view on Christian inclusiveness that perhaps some of you on the other side of our church can also relate to, see the following sermon by Very Rev. Frank Limehouse, Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama. I have met this guy and can vouch for his strong orthodox credentials. This sermon actually does brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Please check it out.


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