I was intrigued by a recent article in The NY Times entitled, “Mexican Church Takes a Closer Look at Donors,” which looks at the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. Apparently it receives large donations from Mexican drug lords. It’s convicting for several reasons, and certainly made the ash on my head yesterday feel a little bit more real.

The first element I found convicting, especially during the season of Lent, was the idea of “an acceptable offering and sacrifice.” The article opens by pointing out that the Roman Catholic Chapel in Pachuca, Mexico has a plaque that honors its patron Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, commander of the crime syndicate called Zetas. The plaque bears a quote from Psalm 143, and there is an inference that this is all deeply wrong: “How dare they take that dirty money!” Father Coogan, a priest in the area, bluntly explains why the church has taken the drug lords’ money, “Hey, the guy who owns the factory, he’s a bastard, but we take his money, so why not take the drug money?” He captures exactly what makes the Psalm quote on this drug lord’s plaque so stunning: it brings one back down to Earth. The church has traditionally understood Psalm 143 as one of penance; the opening verses are in the form of a general confession reminding us that everyone, even the purest of givers, without God’s grace and mercy, is actually – to quote Father Coogan – a bastard. On our own, we have more in common with the Zetas than we do the righteousness of God.

The story also evokes the theology of the cross powerfully. The cross reminds us that when it comes to good and evil, in an ultimate sense, we have no idea what God is actually doing. We don’t see or understand the things of God. Elvira Rodriguez Lopez’s quote says it best (rubbing the Pharisee in me the wrong way), “the mysteries of God are great and that all donors should be thanked.” Amen! The cross reminds us that God works in evil things, through suffering and character flaws, even local drug lords to lead us into Christ’s arms. That we can give thanks for all things, even the Zetas, because God is responsible, and he makes the mess in order to clean it up his way, for his is The Power and the Glory (ht Graham Greene).