by Anton Flores-Maisonet (Advent 2012)
The path of prayer and love and the path of suffering seem to be the two Great Paths of transformation.
Suffering seems to get our attention; love and prayer seem to get our heart and our passion.
— Richard Rohr in Everything Belongs
If prayer-filled love and suffering are the paths to transformation, compassion is the intersection. At this crossroad, we are invited to suffer with another out of great love and desire so as to be fully immersed in the human condition. Indeed, Christ’s incarnation is the ultimate expression of this convergence where prayerful loving and suffering took on human flesh that fully identified with our human condition, transforming humanity’s worst act – crucifixion of the innocent – into God’s most gracious deed – the redemption of all.
The last few months have been an invitation for me to walk the compassionate path of transformation. I have sought intentional times of solitude and silence for prayer and reflection. I have found new depths of love as I accompany new and close friends through their respective sufferings. I wonder where this sometimes painful journey into the heart of others, my own heart, and the heart of God will take me.
ARTURO & NORMA
In September I traveled to Mexico as Arturo and Norma’s surrogate. Arturo’s 80-something year old father has cancer that has metastasized; Lord only knows how many days of life remain. Norma’s mother has recently suffered partial paralysis and language loss from what may have been an aneurysm. This sojourn has called to my attention how structurally violent laws, policies, and poverty prohibit Arturo and Norma from being alongside their loved ones. In the face of this, love, prayer, and suffering compelled me southward and what I found was a new depth of intimacy with a couple I’ve called my best friends and neighbors for over ten years.
As I write this reflection, we have entered into what is probably the darkest hour in Alterna co-founder, Norma’s, nearly eleven year medical crucible – her end stage renal failure hanging between the crosses of our nation’s failed healthcare and immigration policies. She has been hospitalized most of this past month with a very serious medical condition, calciphylaxis. We do not know what lies ahead for this uninsured, immigrant mother who is more family to us than friend. We cannot offer false hopes; all we can do is embrace our mutual powerlessness and all I can offer is my compassionate presence.
INCARCERATED MOTHERS & THEIR CHILDREN
And just this past week, in our so-called halls of justice, I witnessed Leydi, a single mother of six young children, sentenced to three years in prison. On paper it will read that this sentence was imposed for three incidents of “identity fraud” as this formerly homeless single mother from Mexico used the identity of another to obtain transportation, a job, and basic utilities like water and heat for her and her children. But read between the lines of her sentence and you will find a gross misuse of power as the assistant district attorney publicly portrayed Leydi as being an “illegal” immigrant whose irresponsibility was demonstrated by her family size and whose immigration status was a guarantee that she would recommit this crime of defrauding another for her daily bread. Never mind that the prosecutor already knew that Leydi is in deportation proceedings as a result of these charges. Now taxpayers will pick up the tab for a first-time, nonviolent offender’s incarceration and her six children, already separated from mother and one another, remain precariously close to being placed in our overburdened foster care system.
Leydi sits in prison, as does our foster son’s mother who was eligible for parole in November, but because of administrative errors will spend a second Christmas behind bars and miss baby Emanuel’s first celebration of Light piercing darkness. (For more on these two families’ ordeals, read my essay, “Fostering Love”.)
In this time of holy accompaniment in the face of such pernicious suffering, I am confronted by the harsh reality that compassion is also an invitation to face my own False Self that is too often filled with confusion, anguish, and fear and to experience the mysterious transformation that comes from embracing my sometimes mournful and powerless True Self.
I am finite, so these last days of Advent I walk this dark path following even the smallest flicker of Light that will remind me of that God is with us and offers infinite compassion.