When I went to Peru, I had a nine-month plan set-up for my deacon internship – nine months to learn Spanish and then return to the USA to work with one of our Latino parishes. When we were in the seminary, we had to set-up a learning contract for the deacon internship: projections, charts, chronogram, plans, costs, and time estimates.
Right from the moment I got off the plane things did not go well for my plan. The person who was supposed to pick me up at the airport forgot or overslept. Until this day, I still don’t know which it was. But I was there over two hours waiting. The taxi drivers explain to me in broken English that the only address I had was a Post Office box. The public phones only worked with a special token coin. Very complicated process. I didn’t understand much of that conversation. When I did get picked-up and we left the airport, I saw huge burning mountains of garbage in the central media of the highway – due to a garbage collectors’ strike. Horrible black, smelly smoke. When I entered the country, the wrong visa stamp was placed on my passport. I was suddenly an illegal alien. That took about six months to fix. I arrived in August which is the high point of winter. Winter in Lima is very cold, damp, and foggy – and no heat in the houses. No sun at all – just gray skies and fog. When I got to the language school, I was placed with another new student, a nun. Turns out she had no aptitude for learning Spanish and did not understand anything or even progress at all the first month. I was obliged to progress at what I considered her slow rate of learning. And of course, after a short time all the sicknesses of poor sanitary conditions started in me. My nine-month plan was in shambles. It took me awhile living as an illegal alien, cold, abandoned, sick, and with no plan to learn patience and faith. It took me awhile to see that God had another plan and that God was with me all the time.
Today the Gospel is the introduction of one of my favorite passages. Today we find John the Baptist in jail and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. This is the moment right after Jesus’ sermon on the mount, a few healings, and the selection of the first apostles. Jesus notes that few people recognized John or listened to his message. The great cultural, educational, religious, and commercial centers, the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, continued with life as normal, following their own plan. Even though the people knew that Elijah had to arrive before the Savior, they did not recognize John as Elijah. He did not fit into their plan.
At this moment Jesus blesses God that the highly educated, religious, cultured, and wealthy did not recognize the hand of God in their life – only those with a child-like attitude of confidence in God recognize the hand of the Father.
Years later I was listening to a catechist speak about faith as walking like a child with his hand confidently placed in the hand of his dad – care-free, confidant, no plans. What a great image of faith – that is what Jesus is saying to us today.