Dear Friends and Family,
I recently passed over the threshold of 65 years, and into the silver age of life.
It is not lost to me that I was born in the early evening, on August 14th.
That hour put me squarely into the vigil of the feast of the Assumption of Mary, marking the Catholic calendar rather than the Julian measure of days.
At Mass that morning, aside from offering gratitude to God for 65 years (and a short prayer for more), I reflectively enjoyed memories of my mother, and recalled how she attributed my good health, which I still enjoy, to Jesus' mother, Mary.
My mother had Rubella (German Measles) when she carried me, in the first trimester of pregnancy, and all predictions were that I would suffer deformation on all levels, from multiple organ deformities, blindness and deafness, to very challenging mental retardation.
My mother told me years later of the warning the doctors gave her about the many problems I would have, and that my short life would be a twisted knot of disastrous health.
Those fearful words lit up in my mother the fire of passionate prayer, to Mary.
My mother believed to her dying day that it was the work of Holy Mary that left the doctors and nurses astounded, when I was born a healthy baby boy.
Being fully entangled in snarled knots, of one kind or another, is unfortunately all too common in life.
It would be surprising if you, who are old enough to read and understand these words, have never passed through such an excruciating time.
Sometimes we are knotted from within by twisted thinking, psychic agony, gloomy and haunting emotion, intellectual pain, spiritual darkness.
Sometimes we are externally tied up in bundles of knots, finding ourselves in an unbelievable circumstance, an absolute trap, every way out speaks its own disaster, a crucible of suffering.
Noose-like knots dangle all around us now.
Like the resurgence of nationalism in many countries, bringing with it a vehement rejection of other peoples and cultures, fomenting claims of racial supremacy, passionate rejection of immigrants and refugees, and which provokes volatile world leaders to wars and world wide wars.
Like the fascination with death and terror, the nightmare of so many suicides and terrorist acts in the most innocent settings.
Like the revelations of widespread, institutionally protected sexual predators of innocent children, in the Catholic Church and elsewhere, in families, in many other professions and communities.
Like the all absorbing idolatry for money and power, the surrender of human encounters, traded in for cheap and empty virtual alternatives.
Mother Mary, un doer of knots, free us of these damning chains, link by link.
A few months ago while working in Jeremie province, for the first time in my life, I saw what is called here in Haiti a zombie.
He was being led at twilight, from his grave, by two "porteurs" in red. The zombie was in white from head to toe. He was being led, bound and tied by a number of ropes, to the place where he will work in obedience and servitude.
Many people here believe fully in these things. Others don't believe at all.
But sort of like the way God does not stop existing if you choose not to believe in him,
this image and all the social and psychic power it generates does not vanish because of disbelief in voudou.
If nothing else, the image I saw in Jeremie is of human slavery and degradation, continued into 2018. It speaks of incredibly deep attitudes totally opposing life, freedom, and goodness.
The image is a poignant and painful reminder of the unimaginable reality of human trafficking and bondage today, even in developed countries.
Blindness, deafness, deformation, deviation of thinking, and a shortened life are cause by a lot more things than just rubella.
Holy Mother, un tier of knots, we beg your help.
The zombie provoked many questions from me to my Haitian friends. The where's, why's and how's of it all came pouring out of me as questions.
It was a fascinating lesson. But I was looking for a practical answer. How can this be stopped? How can I help stop it?
I was reminded that what will wake a zombie up is salt.
Yes, I have heard that, but what will prevent the making of a zombie in the first place?
I was also told that the right prayer offered, at the right time, and the right spot at the grave, would make it impossible for a zombie to be called back from a grave.
I asked, "what is that prayer?"
My friends looked at me in disbelief, smiled wryly and said,
"We don't know. We aren't priests.
YOU are! Surely you were taught that prayer!"
Sometimes I wonder, in the face of so many dark mysteries, if we priests haven't become so secular and worldly, that we too easily absorb the darkness we have professed to fight, and thus lose our force against it.
This would be tragic, since we and all those baptized, have the gifts and powers that come from God's Holy Spirit, in order to fight evil.
What is needed are determination, and guts.
Holy Mother, un tier of our darkest knots, hear our prayer.
During the terrible riots we had last month, while everyone else was told to shelter in place, it was not possible for us for many reasons. While driving though fires to reach sick people, we came upon a store that had been looted on the first floor and the looters were now on the second.
Some wicked person lit the first floor on fire, to burn the thieves to death on the second.
As we got there, the people on the second floor were getting scorched and choking on smoke, and started jumping out the only window they were able to break. This window was in front of me, and they jumped from the second floor and would rather break every bone in their legs than burn to death. They did.
Un doer of knots, what to do now?
A thief was running by with a big piece of plywood that he just looted.
It was a beautiful piece of wood that never held a nail.
I fought him for it, and I won. He called me a thief. I told him he had it wrong. I stole it from a thief.
I propped it two feet high on one end, and left the other end on the ground. It was suddenly a trampoline. A rough one.
But the rest of the jumpers didn't break a bone.
But then I was berated by the crowd, for saving the lives of thieves.
(Most of these screamers had flat screen TV's under their arm, they were hypocrites from the first floor looting.
I found myself trying to find words to state the obvious to them:
Stealing some clothes should not call for being burned at the stake.
We left with the wounded, headed to our hospital, and then a last call for the night.
A foreigner who was in Haiti with another mission had hung himself some days before, and his body was now found after 4 days hanging.
I was asked by the mission to take his body, and by his family abroad to bury him.
We went through 13 fires to get his body.
The reasons behind his suicide are not clear. He was just a few years younger than I, which made for a particular disturbance to my dreams that night.
We prayed for him, the full office of the dead. I cremated him myself, blessing the third fire as is my custom.
We celebrated mass for his soul, and I buried him just outside the chapel, not 15 feet from the altar.
I buried him close to the chapel because his family was absent, so I took him as my own brother.
That is the most tragic of all the knots, the one around the neck that hangs the heart and soul.
Speaking of my mother, she also used to say wryly "you know, your emails are always a real picker upper."
I know these messages are often of harsh realities. But this is what it's like to do the work given to me to do, and I have to deal with these tragedies and do my best to learn from them, in their deepest meanings.
Some things I have learned?
For starters, our times call for courage and guts.
Our times call for belief in the power of prayer, and the wisdom to use it.
We must believe that no matter how tangled, pathetic, sad and hopeless things might get for us,
we should set our hands to the smoothing of the tangles and untying of the knots.
Often enough, we will find invisible and knowing hands eager to help us.
These invisible hands have taught me that the more practical our actions, the holier they are.
Hell is full of small talk.
"The knot of Eve's disobedience, was undone by the humility of Mary.
What Eve had tangled through unbelief, did Mary loosen by faith." (St Iraneus, 150 AD)
As always, I thank you for the prayers and support that allows our mission to continue.
Many blessings and enjoy the last days of August.
Fr Richard Frechette CP DO
Port au Prince
August 24, 2018