Opinion: The Power of God and My Abuelo’s Machete

A man holding a machete stares up at a demonic horned figure emerging from the earth in the woods. The man is representative of the author, Dallas senior, Juan Rodriguez's grandfather, who carries a machete and listens to sermon recordings in nature (Photo illustration by Juan G. Rodriguez).

I spent the summer of 2022 working with my Abuelo, tending to our family home out in East Texas. My mom had to go down to Mexico for medical treatment that wouldn’t bankrupt her and she took my younger sibling with her. So, for most of the summer, it was just the two of us looking after four acres, four dogs, several chickens and the house. 

During that time, we did a lot of work outside. The entire property had been fenced shortly before I returned home for the summer. Seeing as how my grandfather and I would be the only ones around, the responsibility of tending to it fell to us. 

He was clearly the expert, the one who had spent a good chunk of his life working outside and doing this sort of work. I did my best to keep up, picking up bits and pieces of experience from watching him work and listening to him talk. 

We worked best when we talked. It was a consistent delight. A topic that never failed to come up was religion. I wasn’t against the conversation veering in this direction, seeing as how I’d felt myself developing a curiosity for the subject. Something about the way he talked about it caused something in me to stir, even if I’d always had concerns about how it’d conflict with my current way of living.

“Papa Benito camina con Dios,” my mom said to me when I mentioned to her how often he talked about religion. She advised me to listen, to see what wisdom I could learn from him.

To this day, I still feel that curiosity come to the surface when he and I talk. It’s not as often as last summer, but every time he makes that hour-long drive out to Murchison, Texas, we pick back up on our conversations as if it had only been moments since we last saw one another.

My family, as a whole, has always been religious. There’s always a Bible somewhere nearby for me to swear on if I need to. The walls of our homes are adorned with crucifixes, Christ and several saints. For the longest time though, this wasn’t something I gave much thought to. It was all just something that existed in the background of my life.

That changed as I started my first semester of college. It was a combination of homesickness and a curiosity about my heritage that encouraged me to seek out more conversations with my family about life before they came to the United States. I wanted to learn more about what it was that they’d left behind all those years ago.

Soon enough, it stopped being a casual fascination. So much of what I have overlooked in my youth has started coming into focus. For instance, I slowly began adopting the style of dress typical of mi abuelo y papá, complete with the Western-style hat and boots. It turns out that they’re sensible clothes to wear when working outside and doing the work that I often watched them do around the house as a boy.

Lately, I’m finding myself reevaluating my relationship with religion, Catholicism specifically, because of my family. So much of what they do is centered around faith and worship; I can’t help but look on and wish I could be a part of something as important to my grandparents as that.

Family is something sacred to me. They’ve influenced so much of who I am today that it doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m entertaining the notion of someday being a practicing Catholic. 

If it means being closer to the people I love, I’m willing to do anything for them.

With even the briefest glimpse of me, this all might come as a surprise to hear. There might even be doubts as to whether I can truly ever be a devout Catholic, based on the life I’ve led so far. That’s between God and I to sort out, quite frankly. It’s something we’ll work out together, though. 

I remain confident that there is a place for me in the congregation, even if it is a place where I feel that someone like me is very much in the minority.

I started being a bit more optimistic about my place in all this the second I figured out what I had faith in. It’s not the Catholic Church – God no; I can’t put my trust in an institution that has harmed so many throughout history. Any organization that perpetuates such heinous crimes alongside its own existence is one I have no interest in being a part of. 

Things changed for me when I realized I didn’t have to put my faith in the Church. In my mind, the Church is entirely separate from God. There are ways to be a good Catholic and not abide by the Catholic Church’s instruction. Knowing what we do about the Catholic Church nowadays, I’d argue that we shouldn’t be blindly trusting them. There is no excuse for their crimes. We should be questioning the Church’s power and actively challenging the Vatican’s legitimacy. 

Folk Catholicism is a concept that I’ve recently become enamored with, as a result. It’s the simple notion that communities will blend their cultural practices with the Catholic traditions they’ve often had imposed on them. In a sense, there’s a democratization of faith. The conquistador may impose Catholicism on the people, but those who’ve suffered under conquest have found a way to make this religion their own and preserve their traditions in the process.

Nothing lasts forever without revision, especially not a thousands-year-old text like the Bible. We take what we can from it and we let it serve as a foundation from which we build. 

Otherwise, we’ll end up bitter and alone, only finding solace in other sour souls.

When all we can do is tear down those already struggling to find their footing, we make it so that society never has a future beyond our lifetime. The government has failed us and it has no interest in rectifying its mistakes. 

So it falls to each of us to look after one another, to see the hurt our communities are suffering under and do our best to ease that pain. There is no room for discrimination here. No one gets left behind, no one gets kicked out. It’s our duty to look after each other, to see the hurt on all our faces and to make the bonds that tie us together all the more resilient.

To have faith that things can get better is a start, but kindling alone doesn’t make a fire. It takes courage to act, to try and light the firewood. We run the risk of burning our hands, but we do it because it’s necessary; our loved ones depend on us so much. 

So, we light that fire with the hope that we don’t burn ourselves. We hope that the fire keeps us warm long into the night. All the while, we keep faith that soon we will be able to rest easy in the arms of our loved ones.  

So I let my faith burn brightly and freely. I have to, if I’m ever to see my friends and relatives grow and prosper.

With that, the time for talk has passed into memory as the power to shape our fate falls into our hands. 

After all, we can’t expect God to do all the work.

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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