“You Americans,” he said, “Hollywood. The movies…”
He would always like it when I spoke only a few words of English to him. Most seminarians there had grown up watching American movies, and only in Spain are they ever dubbed into English. For the most part, kids from other countries can read the subtitles of English films almost as fast as we can listen to the words. This was to the point that I really had to watch what I said around them (not that I interjected things in English often, but the wrong interjection would be understood by all). Still, my Spanish was still quite good, and most days I forgot that I ever spoke English.
On our walk, we were coming quickly on a small hut ahead of us. It was a nice day. Only a few clouds were present in the sky and the roads were not muddied at all. It was a pleasant day to go for a walk (I did not feel like playing in the other seminarians’ enthusiastic soccer game that time around.) Besides, I liked to see how Brother John mingled with the local folks. A rather portly middle aged man, he was the kind of person who had the charm to make friends with anyone. He is still in La Reja, running the seminary, playing the organ, and making life as joyous as possible for the clerics there. He is probably one of the happiest people I have ever met.
On this day, though, he was on an errand of mercy. He was going to visit “el abuelo” (the grandfather, or “gramps”). That was his hut up ahead. Surrounded by uncut weeds, it had no windows, no visible door, and it was made of concrete blocks with a rather flimsy roof.
“Grandpa!” Brother John called out.
Out came a man of slight stature, old beyond his sixty some years, and blind. He noticed immediately Brother John’s voice. He came out with such a look of joy. The seminary did what it could in order to take care of him. This just meant most of the time bringing him food and maybe taking him to the doctor if he needed it. And of course, Brother John would go and visit when he could.
Out of his cassock, the happy religious pulled out a small holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the one where Jesus is actually holding His heart and pointing to it. Brother then began giving the Grandfather some pious words about trusting in God and praying often. Most of the time, most clerics are such pains in the neck when they do this, since they often lead much more comfortable and safer lives than the people they try to exhort. But in Brother John, you saw the compassion involved in what he said. It is like the people who used to go see Dom Columba Marmion speak not because they were interested in his sublime theology, but more rather to see how his face lit up when he spoke of such sublime things. And all I remember from that conversation was that frail blind man gripping that small holy card with such faith, even though he did not know what was on that delicate piece of paper. I think that is what compassion is. If I have ever seen it, it was there.
That night I went to my cell like I did every night. I left the church after Compline, the whole seminary now in total silence, and I went briefly into the cloister and looked into the night sky. I realized as I always did that I was looking at the same sky as all of the people I had ever loved or ever would love. I realized that we are all bound by those dreams drawn in the stars, and that anyone who has ever gazed upon them has loved, and thus knows the meaning of joy, comfort, and mercy. I realized that, even if I was then a celibate, she who I love now was also with me, beckoning to me and preparing my heart for the first time I saw her and listened to her voice. And I was thankful, even if I was so far away.
And when I laid my head on the pillow that night, I felt the delicate fingers of God covering me, as they covered the Grandfather in his little hut, Brother John in his humble cell, my family in the little house in Hollister, and the Beloved in her apartment in Chicago. And even if we did not know each other then, even if we were far away or still strangers, God was looking down on us as we rested our weary eyes for the trials of another morning.
And that is enough, is it not?