Saints Amongst Us? Just ask Sara
By Rev. Justo González, II, Pastor, El Nuevo Camino UCC
“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” Roman 12:4-5
It was about 3 a.m. on February 28, 1995, when the pager went off. I awoke immediately. I saw the number and I knew it was bad. Just seeing the number, I knew that life was changing before me. It would never be the same again.
A few hours before, I told Mita, Bernarda Hernández González, my mom, “mañana te traigo la comunión y celebramos junto el misterio de Cristo en el pan y el vino.” She was excited about sharing in the Lord’s Supper. I, as a pastor, was excited about breaking the body of Christ and sharing the blood of Christ with her.
I assured mom that I would bring communion to her room. The pager said otherwise. Right there on that wintery night, I felt the presence of God who was telling me to prepare. “Your mother is going to eternity this day.” It was awful.
Even writing about it 18 years later, I cry as I type. I was 33 years old, the age of Jesus when I lost mom. I was too was dying. I was dying at knowing that “Saint Bernarda” was being called to her eternal reward when I wanted her to be with me.
That awful pager. That dreaded call. You know, the one where hello means goodbye. The call, text or email that informs us when something horrible happens and you can’t change the reality of what is or is about to be.
I sing in the midst of my pain. I can give up, scream, yell or try to find peace. I choose peace and comfort. “Bendito, bendito, bendito sea Dios, los ángeles cantan y alaban a Dios. Bendito, bendito, bendito sea Dios, los ángeles cantan y alaban a Dios. Yo creo Jesús mío que estas en el altar, oculto en la ostia te vengo a adorar. Jesús Rey del Cielo que está en el altar, su Cuerpo, su sangre nos da sin cesar.”
All Souls and Saints day is coming. In light of my reflections on “saints”, I’m going to share my story of my BIGGEST Saint. Saint Bernarda Hernández-González, or mita, is my hero.
How is it that the woman who molded my life and taught me about God, faith, comunidad y familia is so insignificant to the broader world? I also wonder and also ask myself how is it that the people that we know as “saints” are not known to others? Why are “our saints” treated as less than by the broader community? Are not “our” saints as worthy as others? Do we know our “saints”?
If I were to ask you to name a “saint” in your life who would you name? Would your “saint” be someone like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Saint John Paul? Saint Martin Luther King? Saint Cesar Chavez? Saint Pedro Albizu Campos, Saint Rigoberta Menchú, Saint Maya Angelou, or Saint Dorothy Day? Do you even know who these people are and their impact in the lives of the hurting, the broken, the poor and disenfranchised? Don’t know? Get an encyclopedia, go to the library or start googling names because these people are powerful in many ways. Some were “saints” of the church, otros son santos entre el pueblo y en las comunidades adonde servían. “Santo” por la iglesia o “santo” por estar en nuestras vidas, con la gente y el pueblo — todavía significa “santo”.
Something is wrong when we don’t know, honor and embrace the “saints” that are amongst us or have journeyed their journey during our time or before us.
It seems to me that we’ve become blind to what makes people, holy, mighty, powerful, LARGE and transformative in our lives. If we can’t see the saintly attributes of those amongst us how can we experience God in the midst of our communities and lives? God should not be an abstract concept that you or I experience “out there”. God is the God that is within us and those we see, touch, listen to, encounter, call, text, Facebook, hear and engage with on a daily basis. In other words, God is among us.
If God is only God when we’re in Church or in trouble then we’re really missing lots of opportunities to be with God, laugh with God, beber café con Dios y estar en su presencia cuando nos vemos en la calle y en la comunidad. El Dios que yo servo está en ti, en mí y con todos.
When Mita (my Saint) died, Sara Marie, my niece (who was just recently married), was 8 years old. She knew Mita. She know her grandma, learned her values, listened to her life lessons and loved her. One poignant moment came when she looked at her dad, after Mita died, and asked, “Who will make the rice now?” In the moment, even as a child, she understood that Mita was the center of our family. She knew that food, familia, comunidad, esperanza, Jesús, María, José, Dios y fiesta were significant parts of who we are as Latinos and people of familia y fe. .
In her simplistic childlike question, was a far greater insight and understanding than an eight year old could articulate. Sara’s question was a literal one yet also, it was far more complex. How would we gather now as a familia? Who would take the lead in bringing us to the meza of confraternidad? Who would darnos de comer for we are a growing multicultural, multilingual, multigenerational familia?
Sara was asking literally about el arroz de ese día y el pan de vida para alimentarnos into the future. The beauty of her question is that Mita had taught her children that familia, fe, Dios y su presencia is a lifelong process of being present and available to each other, service to Dios y la comunidad.
She (Mita) taught Sara’s dad, Louie, what it meant to be a man and a father in all aspects of the word. Her mother, Beth, was taught the same qualities by her own saintly parents. Sara has been blessed by the powerful teachings and modeling of love, care, compassion, familia y Dios by her grandparents on both sides. She learned what “saints” often teach; life lessons about love, life, familia and the ability to boldly dream dreams and work even harder to make them a reality. She watched, questioned, learned, incorporated values and has become the beautiful woman she is today and the gorgeous bride that walked proudly down the aisle of the church.
At Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, on Sara’s wedding day, there were viable and invisible guests. Her proud grandparents processed from heaven into the Cathedral and most people didn’t notice but those of who are family saw them. There came Mita, in a beautiful white gown. Papa, Isaias, was there in his tux. Papa Bill, was all smiles as he led his beautiful bride Nana Eileen down the aisle. There in the front pew was great-grandma, O’Donnell, Vis-abuela Mamita y Benita, Vis-abuelo Cristóbal y Justo también.
Sara felt their hugs, their warm energy, and the love of this community of Saints. A community of Saints that has gone to be with God and yet has never left her alone. That is familia! That is the power of the Saints amongst us.
I smiled when I overheard the Spirit of Mita speaking to Sarita. She said, “Nena, años atrás preguntaste quien hará el arroz cuando Dios me llamo a la eternidad? Lo harás tu (Young lady, you’ll make the rice). You have been taught everything you need to know to make rice and to nurture your new familia.”
Don’t ever underestimate the power of the Saints in your lives. Many may not know them but they certainly will have an impact upon you and the generations that follow. Just ask Sara.