I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice.
—Wendell Berry, from “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”
As a clergyman, I have grown used to the fact that no matter what else a person may say about my vocation, it really isn’t cool to be a man or a woman of the cloth. Oh, being a minister is dignified, but no matter how well you accessorize, a clerical collar never is hip.
So imagine my surprise when a kid from two doors down showed up to play at our house wearing a tee shirt bearing the image of a handsome young man in a dog collar.
I almost fell down and kissed his feet. “Bless your three-year-old heart! Maybe my kids will grow up thinking I’m not a dork after all. Someone like me is on a shirt!”
I restrained myself, but I did get interested enough to do a little research on the colleague of mine whose luck is sufficient that he has been made immortal on a child’s garment.
It turns out that the cleric adorning my neighbor’s shirt is Father Toribio Romo, an honest-to-goodness Roman Catholic saint from the Mexican state of Jalisco, a martyr from the days of anti-clerical repressions following the Mexican revolution, and a figure of increasing religious importance among those who have made their way to el norte without the proper paperwork.
According to the stories (and there are many), Father Romo has a soft spot in his canonized heart for illegal immigrants who have fallen on hard times. Typically, reports of Fr. Romo’s miracles involve an undocumented migrant who is lost in the desert. He or she is cold and hungry, and is found by a kind stranger who offers help in the way of food, money, and perhaps a warm blanket. Often the stranger will tell the migrant where work can be found. When the beneficiary of the kindness offers someday to repay the stranger, the response goes something like this: “don’t worry about it, but when you return to Mexico, look me up in my home town, Santa Ana de Guadalupe, in Jalicso.” Later, when the recipient of the stranger’s kindness returns to Mexico and travels to Santa Ana de Guadalupe, a search for the kindhearted stranger inevitably leads to a shrine honoring Father Toribo Romo, the hometown saint.
I am a Presbyterian. My forbearers in Protestant piety have passed on to me a tradition lacking a theology of saints, and having little room for magic. Calvinists don’t pray to saints, and we certainly do not expect to find them lending a helping hand to migrants lost in the Sonoran desert. Nonetheless, I want to believe the stories about St. Toribio Romo.
I want to believe in Father Romo because, if God is sending one of His saints to the US/Mexican border to help illegal immigrants, then that means God truly is on the side of the powerless. If the reports about Toribio Romo are true, then the poor indeed are blessed and the meek are bound to inherit the earth. It would confirm all of my theologically and politically progressive proclivities.
But more than that, I want to live in a world where the heaven-sent ghost of a martyred Catholic priest is able to help a fellow countryman who has fallen on hard times. I want to live in a world of wonders, a place of magic and of mystery, where not everything that is true can be measured. I want for there to be more things in heaven and on earth than can be found in my books.
I don’t want everything to be explained by science. I want to walk through a wardrobe and have tea with Tumnus the Faun. I want to feel pixie dust on my shoulders and to fly. I want to trade in my Honda for Chitty-chitty-bang-bang.
Even as I write these words I feel the weight and judgment of Holy Writ: “When I was a child I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I am careful to adhere to the Biblical admonition and to be a man, but learning about Father Toribio Romo has given me hope that the grace of magic may be embraced well into adulthood.
Please, God, let it be so!