Monday, August 24, 2009

Santa Muerte, the Cult of Death and the Drug Wars in Mexico

You can see many when walking along the curious shops of Avenida Juarez in Juarez, Mexico. They come in all sizes and materials, from crude plaster to refined gold, from small pewter crudely made figurines to golden and gaudy pendants from thick necklaces. In all of its forms and sizes the figure remains basically the same, a skeleton dressed in a black robe a sickle with a long handled held in one of the bony hands. It is basically the equivalent of the Grim Ripper in American lore, with the void eye sockets of the skull peering in macabre fashion from inside the hood. There is one for any price range and they may include pamphlets or booklets with prayers dedicated to the grim figure. This is the "Santa Muerte" or "The Holy Death". Yet the name does not express the traditional Catholic concept of dying a "good" or "holy" death by being ready to meet the creator through a good life and receiving the Catholic sacraments during the final hour. No, the concept of this figure is that of Saint for those many that raise prayers to it and expect favors and protection. Perhaps a better translation would be "Saint Death".

Saint Death has a wide and devout following in Mexico, most of all in the northern border cities. But to say that this personage is identified with other traditional Catholic Saints is a mistake. Of course the official Catholic doctrine is that only God is to be worshiped. Saints receive reverence as exemplary people who led a Christian life. The Church says that prayers can be directed to these Saints for intercession. Any miracles or "favors" are the work of God and not the Saint. But Saint Death is, clearly, not a Catholic Saint. The Church has condemned the cult of the sinister "Saint". But this does not discourage millions of Mexicans who pray, ask for help, seek protection, elevate curses and offer sacrifice to the Santa Muerte.

Devotees of this grim character offer "gifts" to the figure. Most offer tobacco, a smoking a cigar spreading the smoke towards the image, some offer alcohol or even food or money. The figurine is either kept in a household "altar" or wore as a pendant on a neck chain or both. Candles are lit, incense is burnt and prayers said to ask the grim character to attract a lover, get a job, protection from death or misfortune. The prayers are usually adorned with Christian words, but the true element is pagan, asking this figure for favors and protection. The prayers can also be curses, directed against enemies, gang rivals, and former lovers. These curses can ask for vengeance, for constant unrest for the victim, even for death. Clearly no Christian Saint is going to intercede for such horrible prayers.

Some sociologist, anthropologist or enthusiasts of Mexican native mythologies (many very hostile to Christianity and to the Catholic Church) see the Santa Muerte as a reinvention of the Aztec gods and goddesses. Some of the most enthusiastic apologists of the practice declare this a "people" religion in opposition to the Christian deity and to Christ. In truth the cult of the Santa Muerte is syncretistic since it uses Christian imagery and words, similar to the Voodoo cult.

The cult is widespread and in the last few years has been adopted and propagated by drug traffickers. The Santa Muerte has become a cultural and religious expression of the most violent. With drug money the Santa Muerte has now even chapels where the idol is worshiped. And not only the gang members worship there but also their families and many other people not even related to the gangs who have also adopted this strange "Saint" who in reality is a pagan god of the most dark kind.

What is revealing is that the Santa Muerte cult rise coincided with the increase in violence in the Mexican side of the border with the U.S. We can say that the cult to the dark idol took off almost simultaneously with the drug violence. This violence has reached the most horrific levels of cruelty and wantonness. Since late 2006 to date more than 15,000 people have died in Mexico in the drug wars. Ciudad Juarez, the eye of the storm in this horrific wave of lawlessness has left anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 victims in 2008 and this year looks to be even more bloody. Is the emergence of the worship of "Death" and the horrific violence coincidence?

Santa Muerte has a faithful following of millions in Mexico, most of all in the northern Mexican states and in cities like Juarez that are plagued by violence, murder and lawlessness. But who is the Santa Muerte? Death of course is nothing. It is the lack of life. Spiritual death is the condemnation of the soul to eternal separation from God a conscious form that negates life. Death came into the world through sin and in the last days, according to Sacred Scripture, death will be vanquished and thrown into the fiery lake with Satan and the Antichrist. So in effect the devotees of Death are worshiping an empty idol. Death cannot offer anything but only the negation of life. Praying to the "Santa Muerte" is like praying to a shadow or a void, it is trusting in something that is nothing and will be nothing. Faith in death is faith in that which lacks life and can offer only corruption, darkness, emptiness and hopelessness.

But who is really behind this macabre idol? The actual statue or figurine of course means nothing; it is mute and blind and cannot do anything in itself. But there is a dark spiritual power behind the worship of this thing. It is the power of the prince of this world and his minions. It is the power of hate, murder and violence. A power that despises all that is human, good and godly. It is the power of the destroyer of life who in his rage seduces people to worship this false idol and captures them in the web of evil that it produces. Santa Muerte is Satan. And we can see his horrible work in the thousands of murders and slaughter that have bloodied Mexico, in the degradation of young people who become cold blooded killers and embrace a life of sin. Santa Muerte offers sex, power, money, drugs. But of course because this is the work of the Devil and he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, the "benefits" the idol are also a lie and a trap for those who follow it.

As Christians we need to pray to the one and only true provider of all that is good. To God through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to reject to worship of this horrible idol. We need to direct our young and our families and all those who we know to never pick up such horrible practice and if they have taken it up, to abandon it immediately. Those who have these idols in their houses or possession need to destroy them, and renounce this superstition. As we said, the actual physical idol has no power, but putting our faith on this dark spirit is a rebellion against God.

Ciudad Juarez and many other cities in Mexico are the grip of a spiritual chokehold. We need to pray so that the spiritual powers that have brought the violence leave. We need to dedicate our lives and our families to the good, to Christ. Family by family is how the battle is won. Our weapons are not bullets but prayer. Our alternative should not be hate, violence and empty lawlessness but love according to the love of Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus forgive us our sins, restore our holiness and show us the way of truth. Help us reject the evil idol known as Santa Muerte and free our nation and cities from this instrument of the Enemy. In particular we pray for Ciudad Juarez, that the violence and wickedness brought by the unseen spiritual realities of the evil one may be driven away by the prayers of the faithful, here on earth and in heaven. We pray for our youth who have been corrupted by the influence of Satan. May your Holy Angles protect us and may your Holy Spirit drive to repentance those who are trapped in the circle of violence and murder. Dear Jesus Christ, Only Son of the Father, be the King of Ciudad Juarez and Mexico and vanquish this idol in chains to hell where it belongs.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Hoy se celebra la fiesta de San Lorenzo, diacono y mártir del tercer siglo.
En la Roma Imperial el aborto era común, el infanticidio practicado constantemente, la eutanasia por medio del suicidio era el recurso de los que se sentían acorralados por el sistema imperial. Famosos emperadores como Nerón practicaban el homosexualismo abiertamente y querían imponer su desviación en toda la población del Imperio. Un imperio global imponía su tolerancia a todas las religiones siempre y cuando le rindieran culto a Cesar y con esto los habitantes del imperio podían gozar del libre comercio, los medios de comunicación, y el entretenimiento para las masas en el circo. Pan y Circo. Por más que cambian las cosas más se quedan igual.
En esta época el imperio atravesaba por una de sus crisis financieras y el emperador Valeriano necesitaba los recursos para seguir financiando sus programas públicos como la compra de trigo para la distribución cotidiana a los ciudadanos sin empleos, pagar por los juegos gladiatorios de gran envergadura y satisfacer su lujuria por la riqueza y el poder. Como una solución a su dilema el emperador decidió iniciar una persecución de los cristianos ya que estos se negaban a ofrecer el sacrificio obligatorio de lealtad al emperador, ofrecer una pizca de incienso al altar del ‘dios’ emperador y llamarlo señor. Los cristianos solo tenían un señor: Jesús Cristo.
Pronto la persecución cobro sus víctimas, entre ellos el obispo de Roma Sixto y sus sacerdotes y diáconos. El emperador pedía que se le revelase donde estaba el oro y la plata de los cristianos. Lorenzo, diacono en Roma ofreció al emperador mostrarle el ora y la plata, los tesoros de los cristianos. El emperador le dio tres días para reunir los tesoros y traerlos al foro. Al final del plazo Lorenzo se presentó con una multitud de pobres en harapos, esclavos, sirvientes, lisiados, viejos, huérfanos y otros que para el imperio eran lo peor de lo peor. Cuando el emperador pregunto a Lorenzo en donde estaba el tesoro, este le mostro la multitud de pobres “aquí están los tesoros de la iglesia”.
El emperador furioso ordeno que Lorenzo fuera torturado, para lo cual se eligió asarlo vivo sobre un fuego lento en una parrilla. Dice la historia que cuando su cuerpo estaba totalmente quemado por la espalda el santo dijo “ya está bien cocinado, ahora volteadme para quedar bien”.
San Lorenzo se negó a conformarse a la imagen del imperio de este mundo y decidió recibir el martirio en el espíritu de Cristo conformándose a la imagen de Dios.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Catholic Life is Lived through the Sacraments

When I was finally confirmed in the Holy Catholic Church at the age of 35 our RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults) instructor gave us his final recommendation "practice your faith" he said.

This led me to find a way to practice the faith. Of course prayer, bible reading, getting involved in parish life in different endeavors, but as the years progressed many of these activities ran their course. After several years together my small community disintegrated, the result of people moving to other cities, others getting occupied in their lives, still others went into other groups and areas to serve the Church. Other activities like that of lector (reading the biblical passages that are part of the mass), catechist, evangelization, etc., they all ran their course. In a lapse of almost fifteen years I have moved from my original city.

Another way I looked for a constant refreshment of my faith and commitment to the Church was through reading. And reading I did, dozens, hundreds, thousands of books that accumulated into a rather large collection for a private home. Finally my 6,000 book collection lost about half of its volumes when I moved again from South Texas to Massachusetts. You don't really want to know how much it costs to move boxes loaded with books.

Other friends and Catholic acquaintances have suggested serving in food lines. Give alms to the poor, volunteer in other activities. All of these are worthwhile and necessary ways to live your Christian life, but in the end these also can become stale, routine and with time all things pass. In fact many committed Catholics have found that they can be involved in so many activities that they end by over committing, neglecting their families and jobs.

But then I remembered something I read while preparing to teach pre-baptismal instruction to parents. In one of those old mimeographed copies of a typed manual for baptismal class instructors there was a whole lesson on "Sacramental Living".

The Sacraments provide the true way of living a Catholic life providing the roadmap for a lifetime relationship with Christ and His Church. Rooted in the ministry of Christ and instituted by Him, these are the means to partake of God's grace and guide us in our pilgrimage in life, from birth to death. By exercising our duty and privilege in partaking of these gifts of grace we can always maintain a close relationship with God, Christ and His Church. Even in times when prayer is dry and our faith seems small and God may seem far, the Sacraments are always available, always active in giving us a lighted pathway in what can be the darkness of life.

There are, of course, seven Sacraments instituted by Christ and ministered by the Church. These seven Sacraments are the road markers that show the way of a Christian's life and are intimately related to our life cycle. From the moment of our spiritual birth at baptism to the end of earthly life the sacraments are always present and available to give God's gifts to His people. And the greatest thing is that we do not have to engage in any extraordinary activity. The sacraments provide a constant source of transformation, conversion, repentance and rebirth.

What is a Sacrament? The Church magisterium has said in the past that a Sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace. God uses those things that our senses can see, feel, perceive to indicate that He is always present and lovingly giving us His free gift of fellowship. He uses water, fire, oil, salt and words to indicate that His awesome transforming power is working within us to make us into what He wants. Through the road of our lives the Sacraments are the map if you will, the charting course to unite us with God, to make us his sons and daughters, to purify, to cleanse, to strengthen, to consecrate us into our vocations in life.

This is the way to practice the faith. Each day we can partake of God's Sacraments, and even those that are only given once in a lifetime (Marriage, Holy Orders, Confirmation, and Baptism) provide the character of our vocation as persons and point to the direction of our lives. The Catholic can find a route marked by God and given by His Son to lead a holy life. The Sacraments provide this route and help us to enter into holiness by way of conversion and transformation. We do not have to reinvent the wheel in order to have a relationship with Christ, the Sacraments point to the way and gives us the necessary grace.

Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick (also known as Extreme Unction) are the seven signs of God's grace. In further blogs I will touch on each one as the wonderful markers of the life of faith, the fount of holiness and the way to a close relationship with the Triune God. If we partake of these we will live a Christian life.