Fr. Peter J. Daly
In the seat pocket in front of me was a catalogue called “Sky Mall”. Inside were such things as an aromatic cedar shoe arranger, a lacquered ceramic mouthwash dispenser, a stainless steel “Martini Mister” to spray Vermouth on a martini, a sliver plated cork pin to identify wine, and an electric nose hair trimmer.
Having just spent a week in Mexico visiting families of migrant workers who come to my parish in Maryland, the magazine caused a type of culture shock.
In Mexico I had been staying with people who had no heat against the cold mountain nights. Most had no running water or flush toilets.
One Sunday I had said mass and heard confessions in the local church. Many of the elderly women who came to confession had no shoes. Many middle-aged people had lost most of their teeth. No one in the area had a telephone. Most of the people did not own a car. Many walked an hour or more to get to church. The prospect of education for their children beyond the legal minimum was hard to imagine.
Some of those folks are part-time members of my parish in Maryland. They ride four days and nights on a bus, from central Mexico to Washington D.C. to work for $6.50 an hour doing work that local people will no longer do, picking the meat out of crabs and oysters.
Boarding the airplane was a shock.
It literally was a piece of the first world of wealth, fallen from the sky. How stupid we are. We waste our money on things not even a billionaire needs, like a “nature microphone” to amplify bird noises on a speaker in your home. (Can’t rich people open a window or go outside to hear birds?)
The film on the airplane was just as decadent. It was a fashion report from CNN. Evidently there are people in Miami who “live for fashion”. Even their dogs get pedicures. I was trying to imagine what people in Mexico would say if you suggesting painting the toe nails of dogs.
I was enraged and ashamed. Enraged because a world wealthy enough to make silver-plated cork holders is wealthy enough to be sure no child lacks an education or medical care. Ashamed, because I am part of the culture of excess.
It was my first visit to our sister parish. We chose it because it is home to some of the migrant workers who live among us for part of the year. These are proud people. They asked nothing but our prayers. We gave them a check to build a wall to keep the hill from sliding down into their church. But even that check was partly a result of their own work. They helped to raise the money by sponsoring an annual “Latin night” of Mexican food and dancing in our parish hall to help the people back home.
The people of the world do not want a handout. They want a chance to work.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who feasts splendidly every night, while the poor man Lazarus, lives just outside the gate, covered with sores and longing to eat the scrapes that fall from the table. At death Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham in heaven and the rich man to eternal punishment. The rich man then asks Abraham, “Send someone to warn my brothers.” Abraham says no, they have the Moses and the prophets. They would not listen to a warning even if someone should rise from the dead.
We have been warned. Lazarus is at our gate in the person of Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and all our own poor neighbors. We have no excuses. We even have had someone rise from the dead to warn us.
Woe to us if we waste our money on Martini Misters and electric nose hair trimmers.