The Deer Hunter
In Mexico, there is an extremely hot region named Terracaliente — “Hot Land.”
It is a beautiful place of dense forests of palms, fruit trees, precious hardwoods, and abundant flowers. Great rushing rivers course through these forests, keeping them green and lush. Birds of exotic plumage live there, and animals of every size, from rabbits to deer and leopards, roam the underbrush. Hidden away in hard to reach places lie rich mines of iron, copper, and silver.
At the time of our story, about the year 1868, this seeming paradise was infested by yellow fever and other diseases favored by the extreme heat. This kept many people from settling in Terracaliente. Nevertheless, there was a small village, Huacana, of about five thousand inhabitants.
The Archbishop’s Visit
Around the close of that year, the archbishop of Michoacan, the diocese to which our little village belonged, visited the parish church of San Juan of Huacana. It was his first visitation to this part of his diocese, and the poor people who lived there received him with great joy. Men and women came down from the mountains and out of the woods in droves, raising an enthusiastic din. Like happy children, they rushed to greet their archbishop. Each one produced some precious gift, gifts that, in their great poverty, they could scarcely afford.
“Here, Your Excellency, I brought you this pair of cows...”
“And I a team of oxen,” another said.
“And I a young fowl, Excellency,” added another.
The good archbishop received all and everyone like a true father admiring so much generosity. Nevertheless, he was in a real quandary. Pitying their poverty, he dared not accept all those gifts, yet he was afraid of disappointing them by refusing. He knew well that the best way of showing gratitude for a gift is by accepting it gladly and sincerely. Finally, the archbishop decided to ask the good people to give him some fruit of the region instead of such costly presents. This was no sooner said than done. Fruits of all sizes, shapes, colors, and tastes began to pour in so that a large room was not enough to contain them all.
These were the people of Huacana, poverty stricken, in many ways ignorant, still captives to certain pagan customs and even vices, but full of good will.
One fine day the archbishop, following his usual procedure when on visitations, sat in the confessional administering the Sacrament of Penance. This particular day he was hearing the confession of adults who were preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Amidst the multitude of penitents, he noticed a poor crippled man who patiently waited his turn. To save him discomfort, the archbishop motioned to him to approach. As was his custom, he began by asking him several questions, because of the people’s general ignorance of Christian doctrine.
“Where are you from?” asked the archbishop.
“My Father,” answered the cripple, “I come from a mountain more than fifteen leagues from here.”
“And how did you come?”
“By mule, my Father.”
“What is your state in life?”
“A widower, my Father, with two young daughters of marriageable age.”
“And what is your trade?”
“I am a hunter, my Father.”
“You, a hunter!” exclaimed the amazed archbishop, unable to hold back a smile.
“Yes, my Father,” answered the undisturbed cripple.
“But, what is it that you hunt?”
“I hunt deer, my Father.”
“Deer? Come, come, my man that can’t be,” retorted the prelate, amused and just a little upset, for he was beginning to think that the man was pulling his leg.
But his doubts quickly evaporated and a lively curiosity arose within him as the cripple, shrugging his shoulders, added with the total conviction of one who speaks sincerely: “It would certainly not be possible if my Father God did not help me.”
Surprised at such a simple yet profound answer, the archbishop entreated the man to tell him all about his way of life.
“Well, Your Excellency,” answered the cripple with the same simple calm, “as I said, I am a widower with two young daughters. I spend the days which God grants me this way: In the morning, I get up and say a prayer to my Father God. After I eat the breakfast that my daughters cooked for me, I make my way, as well as I can manage, toward the field with my rifle. I go just a few paces outside my house and there my Father God has a deer waiting for me as I asked Him in my prayer. I shoot it; my daughters come and drag it home. Selling the meat and hide, we have made our living for these many years.”
Marveling not only at what he had just heard, but also at the simplicity and candor with which the man told his story, the archbishop begged him to recite the prayer with which, every day, he asked for a deer from that God whom he called “Father” with a true son’s trust.
“Oh no, my Father! That I can’t do,” returned the crippled warmly.
“But why not?”
“Oh, because I’d be very embarrassed...”
“But, my son, don’t you say this prayer to your Father God?”
“Yes, my Father, but... you know... well... to my Father God... is different...”
“But, you see, I truly wish to hear it. Why won’t you make me happy?”
“My Father,... I’ll do anything Your Grace tells me to do, but this would embarrass me.”
“But this is what I ask of you now. Come, my man, grant me this. You should not be embarrassed.”
“But , my Father, I didn’t learn this prayer in any book, nor did anyone teach it to me.”
“It doesn’t matter. Tell me.”
“Well, my Father, just so you won’t feel offended I will say it. When I get on my knees in the middle of my cot, I say to my Father God: ‘O Father God! Thou hast given me these two daughters of mine and Thou hast also given me this illness that doesn’t allow me to walk. I have to feed my little maidens so they don’t have to go to work in town and run the risk of offending Thee. So, Father, place a deer right here where I can shoot it so this poor family can have support.’”
The archbishop listened with deep reverence, the shepherd of the Church learning from a poor cripple. The poor man, without realizing his prelate’s admiration, concluded simply: “This is my prayer, my Father. And once I finish it, I go out certain of finding what I have asked of my Father God, and I find it always. In all these twenty years that I have been sick, this help has never failed me, because my Father God is very good...very good.”
* * * * * * * * *
Are we surprised at this miracle? Do we doubt it, perhaps thinking how, at times, we have asked things of God and He has not answered?
Maybe this same cripple can give us the key to the mystery. Let us listen to the Archbishop of Michoacan, who gave us this true story himself and who certainly would also have whispered affectionately to us so as not to embarrass us.
This poor, uncultivated native of the hills of Mexico invoked his Father God with perfect resignation; as St. Paul says, he raised hands to Him that were pure, pure... so pure that in those twenty years of illness his greatest fault had been to hit a dog that was chewing one of his deer hides.
With this, the miracle should no longer amaze us, for it is no miracle that God fulfills what He promises.
Translated and adapted from the Spanish original of Father Luiz Coloma, S.J.
DAILY QUOTE for July 24, 2021
SAINT OF THE DAY
St. Charbel Makhlouf
John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California