By Fr. Tim Knepper, C.PP.S.
My mom had a repeated piece of advice to me, especially after I got ordained: keep an open mind. During the fourth summer after I was ordained, I was asked to go with a group from our parish visiting La Labor, Guatemala. The parish had helped with a well project, and we were taking the chance to see how it was doing and get to know the community. We arrived in Guatemala with luggage that was filled supplies for people in the villages. The first thing I noticed was the language the people spoke wasn’t one I understood. I barely had an introduction to Spanish in college, and even that was ten years before our visit to La Labor. My mom’s words about an open mind were even more important.
While visiting the villages and the surrounding area, including churches and other sights, I realized there was a lot I took for granted regularly back in the United States. Hot showers. Purified drinking water. Other people speaking a language I understood. It wasn’t just what I missed from back home, but what was there that I never expected. Guards with machine guns at gas stations. People hitching rides on the pickup truck of the local pastor. Poverty to the point of no home or clothes except those on their back. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw there.
Though my Spanish never really improved while I was there, as the week went along, I started sort of to understand what people were saying in conversations. I wasn’t suddenly struck with the gift of fluency in Spanish by the Holy Spirit, but in some way, I understood what was being said. I think, in some way, I was converted, especially as a missionary. I wasn’t there to save people. I was there to listen and to learn. But what made the most connection or understanding for me was the food. Eating together reminded each of us of the Eucharist where we made sure we felt welcome.
In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear that rain and snow come down from heaven and water the earth. It’s the water from above that brings forth life in the ground, giving us the chance to grow, harvest and eat. The same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters at creation to bring forth life continues to bring forth life in the snow and rain from the heavens sprouting food from the ground for us to share. Just as the snow and rain don’t return to the heavens until they have first watered the earth and made it fertile, the Lord says his word “shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55: 11b). We are changed by the Spirit’s love and the welcome that God showers over us. The challenge for me is to remember the words from my mom with God’s love and welcome – keep an open mind.
To view the full scripture reading, click here.
Fr. Tim Knepper,C.PP.S., is the parochial vicar of the Catholic Community of Northwest Dayton, which includes Precious Blood, St. Rita and St. Paul Parishes.