“How beautiful!” the women repeated in Spanish as Father Shlesinger said the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick. The floor of her house was dirt, and her house consisted of one room that was shared by several generations of the family. Next door, her daughter, prepared food for the day over a wood stove. Amongst the dirt and plant life of her front yard, children and livestock mingled, the former grazing amongst the simple games of simple children. The faith too was simple, and the simple joy of this women who seemed delighted at the presence of the Priest in her midst and who was moved by the words of the prayers, proved a powerful reminder of why I am in seminary.
The Priest is the only one who can bring Jesus to the people through the sacraments. Sure, we can comfort our neighbors with kind words, we can share our daily bread, but it is only the Priest who brings the healing power of the sacraments. This was the main thing I witnessed in Honduras. Time and time again, I was overcome by the fact that Father Shlesinger’s presence as a Priest was the main thing that brought hope to each place we visited. It was not about his personality or his talents, merely the fact of what he was.
As one of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) so eloquently put it, “Thank you for bringing Jesus.” We visited them several times, and we witnessed how these humble sisters, whose lives are focused on the sacraments, were able to bring hope to hundreds of the poor who are on the margins of society. But they needed to be fed as well as the people, and that is what Priest does through the sacraments.
We also spent much time with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, with whom he prayed daily and took our meals. Their joy and fraternity, centered on working with the poor, was refreshing for us, especially after our visits to parishes and our mission trip to the mountains. We also worked with the Missionaries of Christ, which is a wonderful Lay Organization dedicated to evangelizing the people of Honduras.
It was with them that we spent our five days in the mountains (which by far was the most memorable part of the trip). In each town we visited, the people flocked to the Church for they are accustomed to only receiving the sacraments once a month. The joy with which the people lined up for confession and participated in the Mass was truly moving. Father would spend hours at each parish hearing confessions and anointing the sick, while the Missionaries of Christ, with Ramon Garcia, Don Maloney, and I, would do Catechesis. To witness the faith of these people who struggle so much really challenged me to fall in love with the Lord all over again.
I will leave you with one final story from our time in the mountains that illustrates the joy that is not tied to the comforts and pleasures of this world, but the joy that comes from embracing the Cross. At one particular house visit, we came into a small two room house similar to the one mentioned in the beginning. The older women (she was at least in her eighties) seemed to be busy cleaning and preparing the food for the day, and it was shocking that the local delegate thought that Father should visit this woman because she didn’t seem sick at all. As we entered, she became filled with joy at seeing Father, and she graciously ushered us into the only chairs that were in the room. As we entered, Father asked her Spanish, “What part of your body is hurting?” With a big smile and a little chuckle, she replied, “Everything.”