After 15 months in California, a member of the novitiate leadership team who had spent many years on the East Coast reflected on the impact that the pandemic and the events around the world have had on him, describing the pain of witnessing sickness, climate change, and other events as well as the need to mourn, and to recognize love. Recently, after extreme sadness, he found consolation in “little sparkling drops.”
Whenever I think of Easter, my heart irremediably takes me, with no little nostalgia, to the most lavish, complex, emotional, nerve-racking, beautiful, and joyful celebrations that I have ever experienced in my life – the Easter Vigils of St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I ministered for almost nine years. I cannot imagine forgetting ever, no matter how severely Brother Time might choose to punch me, the glorious water baths given to the Catechumens while the multicultural choir intoned “alleluias,” or the no less spectacular “sprinklings” that followed the renewal of our Baptismal promises with the choir roaring “Bautízame Señor con tu Espíritu.”
There was a lot of water involved in these events: Sister Water, who in the indelible words of Francis of Assisi, has always been so “useful, humble, precious and chaste.” As we do each year, we prayed to Abba to bless her at the Easter rituals, so she would wash us clean from ignorance, fear, egotistic self-centeredness, and cruel indifference towards a world in pain. And she whispered Alleluias in our ears as she caressed us one more time, just as she did when she ran all over our newborn bodies at the dawn of our lives, and so many other times after. At the Easter Vigils, she has always taken us by the hand in our dying and our rising, with the hope that refreshed and renewed by her cleansing sacrifice, we will be transformed into a true alter Christus and re-engage in the very work of Christ, bringing redemption to so many of our siblings, including herself, who are crying out in pain.
Collectively Facing Difficulties
It has been a full year and three months since I moved to Santa Barbara, California, to the US-6 Interprovincial Novitiate House – where my ministry is to accompany the novices in their initial formation, as they consciously choose to engage in the eternal process of growing into full-statured Franciscan Friars. They, together with the rest of the formation team and the whole community of friars at Old Mission Santa Barbara, have been a calming, healing balm for me during what has probably been the most difficult period we have collectively faced in our lifetimes.
For the most part, since I arrived here, we have been in lockdown. The virus has taken the life of many of our brothers and sisters and continues to do so within our national borders and beyond, leaving survivors in pain and desolation, preventing them from holding the hand of the sick, providing comfort in their transitus, or fully mourning their losses. My heart, prayers, and full solidarity go to all mourners of the world, even if I single out the people of Langley Park, Maryland, so close to my heart from my years at Camillus, for suffering the frontal attack of the pandemic and becoming its epicentral victims in the state.
This past year, we have witnessed climate change-provoked fires that devoured the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people on the West Coast, painting for weeks an apocalyptic red sky that otherwise should have been pure Ozone blue; and the deliberately caused fires of the Amazon – the biggest lung left for the Earth’s community to breathe – by some of our brothers and sisters with money and influence who felt entitled to burn Sister Jungle alive and all her inhabitants for the sake of grazing, oiling, mining, and money-ing, leaving behind a wretched community in indescribable pain. All these while Sister Jungle still pleads with us: “Don’t you see that I care for you, that if I am gone, you will be gone too?”
We have experienced with heavy hearts frustration, and even anger, over the attack on the Capitol building of our nation, perpetrated by our own brothers and sisters; the cruel, inflammatory words so commonly used now in public discourse by siblings against siblings in different aisles of the spectrum; the intensifying of racial attacks on our African American and Asian brothers and sisters here at home; the chronic mistreatment of our migrant sisters and brothers from around the world who cannot survive in their own native places; the unsustainable and outdated understanding of the human person, which pretends to justify violence against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and leave them abandoned and in fear, and the tragic stories of so many creatures of our God and King, who suffer cruelly and unnecessarily just because as a human family we refuse to come to terms with our vocation that has nothing to do with systems of gain and everything to do with loving, relating, connecting and being compassionate, like Christ, especially to those who suffer. I will never accept that as one human family, this is the world we want to live in or leave behind for newer generations.
Finding Unexpected Consolation
This Easter, I felt the need to mourn long and hard out of a sadness that I never felt before. And as I disposed myself to do it, I suddenly found unexpected consolation, when the enlivening Spirit of Christ revealed his goodness to me in the works of his hands. On that first day of the week, sad as I was, walking in desolation by one of the many gardens of the Mission, with a long face and heavy heart, my eyes discovered this – dewdrops beneath me.
Sister Water Dewfall had fallen on the grass that morning, pretty much as the Spirit falls on bread and wine every time we celebrate the Eucharist. And she reminded me that even when I now live in a desert, she still shows up humbly and unapologetically to do what Abba always intended her to do: to caress us all and give us life. These little sparkling drops pushed my imagination, reminding me of other encounters I have had with Sister Water not long ago or far from here, other spectacular proofs of the quiet and humble goodness that surrounds, touches, and caresses us, most of the time anonymously.
They speak volumes about who God is, and who we are and meant to be. A couple of days ago, during a reflection, one of our novices told us that when he fell in love for the first time, he began to smile frequently, his heart softened, and all of him became kinder. This obvious change was possible because love transformed him and gave him new life. And through the caress of Sister Water, I have come to the simple but profound realization that Abba loves me – that many friars, family members, parishioners, and friends far and near, love me, and I love them back.
A heart that is madly in love cannot stay sad for a long time. You too are loved and lovable! Love is the remedy. Love is redemption and our only hope for a better future. Love is alive and it changes everything. So, in the midst of all our current dramas, I dare to tell you: Happy Easter Season!
— Erick Lopez, OFM, is a member of the novitiate leadership team of the US-6 provinces and, since 2017, a member of the HNP Provincial Council. He emigrated from Colombia, South America, in 1999 and professed his first vows as a Franciscan friar in 2006..