“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.” (St. John Chrysostom)
I was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2010, just before my eighteenth birthday. Ironically, it was at the same parish church where I had been baptized, so although I wasn’t raised in the Faith, I had technically always been a Catholic. But this was the commitment, this was Confession, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion.
What else was I doing ten years ago? Going to the river. Bumming around the one coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Drinking in basements with the school choir. Going to house shows. Toiling away on a paper about Joyce’s Dubliners for Mr. Andrew’s English class. Worrying about not getting into art school. Driving too fast down Brooke Road at night. Listening to Los Campesinos, Springsteen, and the Shins. Making terrible short films. Memorizing speeches from Julius Caesar and King Lear. Fawning over Criterion Collection movies with friends. Reading C.S. Lewis when I was supposed to be shelving books at the Central Library. Watching Bishop Sheen on YouTube.
Obviously being a legal adult doesn’t mean you’re an adult Christian. Unlike other religions, Catholic Christianity isn’t a one and done sort of thing. A profession of faith, even the Sacrament of Confirmation, isn’t a get out of jail free card. Eternal life is ongoing, on both sides of eternity. “With fear and trembling work out your salvation,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians. Or as one of my acting professors in undergrad would always say, “It’s the process, not the product.”
It’s been a year and eight months since I arrived in Honduras in August 2018. The Lord’s process has taken me places I would’ve never imagined, least of all when I was a new-minted convert at St. Mary’s Church in Fredericksburg. I never thought I’d be able to speak Spanish with any skill or confidence. I never thought I’d actually enjoy praying the Divine Office or the Rosary. I never thought I could be at home in a foreign part of the world, with a completely different language and culture, and find people I could honestly call brothers and sisters.
The Lord blessed us in 2020. There were more guys living in the men’s house and we were able to build up a solid Christian fraternity. We had new students and familiar faces at our tutoring program. English classes with the Franciscian postulants started up again. Our young men’s group got off to a good start. This culminated with an incredible mountain mission in the first week of March.
Then, like the rest of the world, things began to change. The epidemic came to Honduras and the country began to shut down. First the schools, then the churches, then public transportation stopped and most commerce closed up. The Mission went into quarantine. No visitors. No movement beyond the two blocks shared with the Franciscian convent. All produce from the market, and packaged food from the store, washed in water and bleach. If one of the Missioners were to become seriously ill, COVID-19 or not, everyone would be quarantined in their rooms.
Smoke from forest fires blocking out the sky.
April came, and the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa started emailing, then calling. Things were getting worse in the capital. Crowded hospitals were turning people away to free up resources for COVID-19 patients. The army guarded the few open stores during the day and enforced the curfew at night. Promised government aid was not coming. Protests, rioting, and wrecked cars blocked the road to the airport. Desperate people were acting out the national consternation.
On April 6 the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Department of Comayagua, in the town of Taulabé. I had been there many times before, and had just visited in February to help prepare for a mission that would later be cancelled. The parish priest was a friend of the Missioners. The people were excited that we were coming.
A rural chapel in San Gaspar Parish. Taulabé, Comayagua.
During Holy Week I took all this to prayer. I now realize how much of a grace it was. This was my first Holy Week where I wasn’t in class, working, teaching, or leading a mission. I had time to sit in the chapel and honestly discern this thing. Still, I was afraid of making a decision. Would I be choosing to stay out of pride? Would leaving be a choice based on fear of an unknown future, be it in Honduras or in Virginia? Would it be foolish to stay and risk my future vocation? Would leaving mean abandoning the field?
Of course this is how the Enemy gets under your skin. Even after talking to some trusted friends and meeting with my spiritual director, I was still stuck within myself. I was only able to move forward after some advice from one of the Friars. I will always be thankful for his directness.
“Don’t talk to yourself, talk to God.”
It ended up being that simple. After a Holy Saturday spent in prayer, I made my decision. I would return to the United States on the last flight out of Tegucigalpa that coming week. Three other foreign Missioners had made the same decision, so thankfully I had traveling companions. Easter Week was spent settling accounts, cleaning, packing, spending time with the Mission family, and giving thanks.
The Houston crew. Patrick (Virginia), Josh (Australia), Alejandra (Texas), Leigh (Arizona).
At dawn on Friday, April 17, the four of us had a long goodbye, then drove to the airport. The road into Tegucigalpia was full of smoke from wildfires up in the mountains, but there were no protests or roadblocks in the city, and we arrived early for our afternoon flight. By God’s grace, the next 24 hours passed without any problems. A smooth flight from Tegucigalpa to Houston, a long layover in an empty airport, then to Dulles International early in the morning. A few hours later I was home in the Shenandoah Valley.
Right before His Passion, Jesus spoke to His disciples about hope in adversity. I can’t think of any better meditation for right now than this.
“Behold, the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (St. John 16:32-33)
This is the end of my Honduras Chronicle, but not the end of the Mission. The work of the Missioners of Christ will be even more important after this epidemic has passed. I know the Lord is guiding the Missioners, both in Honduras and the community in the United States, and the spirit of the Mission will grow stronger through our prayers and sacrafices in these times.
I am incredibly thankful to all my family, friends, and benefactors who have supported the Mission spiritually and financially. The past twenty months would not have been possible without them. If it is God’s will that I return to Honduras, then I will return. If His will is elsewhere, I will pray for the grace to understand it in His good time.
Will you pray for the Mission?
First week with a Honduran mission team. El Matasano, Comayagaua. December 2018.