Drinking the Mate of Faith with St. Joseph

Pope Francis mate.jpg

I spent the summer of 1996 with an Argentinian Jesuit priest. (It was not Father Bergoglio; he was already a bishop by then.)

The Argentinian Jesuit with whom I lived drank yerba mate like mad—morning, noon, and night.

To my untrained eye, the tea appeared a distasteful concoction. It looked like a leafy stew, served in a calabash gourd worthy of Yoda. You had to suck the juice out with a flared metal straw. The whole package gave me the willies. No, thanks, Padrecito.

But this Jesuit, though a holy priest, carried himself like an Argentinian cowboy, a gaucho. And the gauchos swear that the mate they sip all day offers the mind-sharpening effects of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the delight of chocolate.

argentina soccer 96.jpgThat summer of ’96, the Argentinian Olympic soccer team made a run to the gold-medal game. We sat up watching a few matches, and my friend would try to convince me to try some mate. “Eet ees a meeracle dreenk, Marque. All good, no bad. Jist try a leetle seep.”

…Let’s think about what St. Joseph believed. The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid. God has fathered the child whom your beloved fiancée carries. Name Him ‘God saves,’ because He will save His people from their sins.”

–Okay. Turns out this engagement has not become the utter fiasco that I thought it had. Quite the contrary. Instead of having to say goodbye to the love of my life, God proposes that I play a part in the salvation of the world. I am to minister unto Him as foster-father, silently embracing a life of perfect chastity so as to serve as the custodian of the most precious treasure ever found on earth. Okay. I believe. After all, God is all good, and no bad.

…In his inaugural Mass in Rome, our new Holy Father will process from the tomb of St. Peter to the altar. As he makes his way, the choir chants to the saints, especially the holy popes of old, asking them to aid the new pope. Then the choir prays for all the peoples of the world, asking, “May those redeemed by the Blood of Christ have favorable times.”

st-josephNow, it does not suit us to whine. But, I think, without whining, we can note that the past decade and a half have not been easy for us Catholics. The summer I spent trying mate on the humid nights, watching the Argentinian soccer team, was the summer before I entered the seminary. Little did I know that six years later, when I was walking down Wisconsin Avenue, on my way to visit a nursing home, some skateboarders would yell at me, “child abuser!” They did not know me. They just saw a Roman collar.

So we have had some hard times. But God is all good, no bad. Abraham believed, St. Joseph believed, the Pope believes, and we believe. God, and God alone, always has favorable surprises at the ready.

When Pope Francis was twenty-six years old, Vatican II began. That surprised a few people. I was twenty-six when I spent the summer with my Argentinian Jesuit friend. Twenty-six is pretty young, an age of limitless possibilities. There really is no limit to how young we can become when we believe in God.

May He grant us favorable times. And may He give health, long life, and many blessings to Francis our pope.