Heavenly Discourses

By José M. Sanchez - Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA - 1 March 2014



At six p.m. on the twelfth of August 1875, thirty-five-year-old Juan Larramendi of the Society of Jesus fell off the covered wagon at the end of the train on the Santa Fe Trail that had carried him from Independence, Missouri to the New Mexico Territory.  He was seventy miles short of his goal of Santa Fe, where he was to teach at the Jesuit College (actually a high school), and he landed in a ditch, unnoticed by the other people on the wagon train.


Larramendi was not drunk.  He had been sleeping, so deeply that he didn't notice the wagon swaying among the potholes along the Mora River.  When he landed, he hit his head on a rock and was knocked unconscious and did not come to until the train was gone over the hills.


Larramendi was a Jesuit, a perfect Jesuit one might say.  He had all of the advantages of Jesuit training, having spent six years in the seminary learning all of the things that Jesuits learned:  philosophy, theology, history, rhetoric, and all of the other humanities, plus a smattering of science, chiefly astronomy.  Then, he had spent seven years teaching in Jesuit colleges in Spain.  He had been the best student in his class, particularly in natural theology, that is, proving theological questions by the use of reason alone.  But he was not a priest, he had not been ordained, and therein lay the problem.

He had joined the Jesuits at the age of seventeen, already a bright lad, having learned his religion at the hands of the Sisters of the Handmaidens of Mary in the small town of Zamudio near Bilbao.  He was attracted to the Jesuits because they offered the opportunity to get a university education and to travel to the distant lands that had once been part of the Spanish Empire.   In the course of his studies he came to devote almost all his time to questions of natural theology.  He could many times over prove the existence of God by reason alone.


But he did not stop there.  He became interested in the nature of God along with His attributes and how that nature and the divine characteristics were passed on to humans, for, as he knew, man was created in the image and likeness of God.


So far, so good.  But then he developed an obsession with language, specifically the language of God.  If we were created in the image and likeness of God, what was our natural language?  What language did God speak?  If he could find that out, then everyone could learn to speak that language and all of the barriers among people would be shattered and everyone would be able to understand everyone else.


The Jesuit was not stupid, he knew that God knew all languages, in fact had created the people who in turn created the languages.  But what language did God the Father speak to Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit?  To put it on the near blasphemous level, what language would God speak if you woke him up in the middle of the night?  What was his natural language?  Of course, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew because the Jews who wrote the it were Hebrews, but that was not God's natural language.


How to solve this puzzle?  Larramendi had read the Bible so intensely and so constantly that his fellow Jesuits often came to him to get him to clarify a point of Scripture.  But he could not find the answer in Scripture, so he turned to history and found that he was not the first person to ask this question.  Nearly four centuries earlier King James IV of Scotland had wondered about God's language and even conducted an experiment in which a new-born infant was given to a deaf-mute and raised without anyone talking to him, so that when he was grown, he would be speaking a "natural" language, hence, God's language.  The result of this experiment was that the child grew up knowing nothing, and in fact became a cretin.


But the Jesuit persisted.  If he could not find the answer in Scripture or in history, he would ask everyone he knew and many he did not to get a consensus of their answers.  This constant querying bothered everyone.  He became tiresome.  At first he asked only his fellow seminarians; then when he started asking his teachers, his rector became concerned and talked to him about his obsession.  It became apparent to the rector that Larramendi needed to get rid of his obsession before he could be ordained.  He decided to send him to the missions, as far away from Bilbao as he could.  He was sent to the New Mexico mission in Santa Fe, with the hope that time would help relieve him of his obsession.

Larramendi was both angry and pleased.  Angry because he knew that he was hardly the only unbalanced Jesuit he knew.  There was one who would not allow himself to be photographed in profile because he believed he looked like a Jew.  Another spent all of his time on numerology, attempting to predict the names of all future popes.  Another asked the Governor-General of Vizcaya to investigate the rector's use of the Jesuit community funds.  His obsession, he believed, was mild compared to those.  But the rector would have none of it and he was sent to Santa Fe. 


He was pleased to be sent to the New World.  He was tired of Bilbao, of Munich, where he had been sent for some of his studies.  As he left Bilbao he was determined to pass as an ordained priest: after all, he knew everything a priest should know and he had more knowledge than most.  All the way across the ocean and the United States he had impressed everyone with his scriptural and philosophical knowledge -- at first.  Then, he had turned everyone away by his obsessive questioning.  On the wagon train he had so antagonized his fellow travelers with his questioning that by the time the train was three days out of Independence no one would talk to him.

So, when he fell out of the wagon, no one was concerned. Larramendi picked himself up out of the ditch and looked up the wheel ruts in time to see the wagon train continuing on its way, at least three miles ahead.  He brushed himself off and started walking, hoping to catch up when the train stopped for the night.

As he walked into a glen of trees along the Mora River, he was startled by a moving shadow that caught his eye.  He stopped, looked, and was startled again when a short person, a dwarf, stepped out from behind a tree.  The dwarf was no more than four feet high and was dressed in buckskin; on his head he wore a child's-sized pork pie hat, greasy around the rim.  The Jesuit thought he was a child at first until the small man started talking.

"Who are you," the dwarf demanded, not noting the Roman collar the Jesuit wore with his woolen checkered shirt.

"Yo soy Padre Juan Larramendi de la Compañía de Jesús," the Jesuit responded, in Spanish, because he had been told that most of the inhabitants of the Territory spoke Spanish; furthermore, his English was not yet good enough to carry on a conversation.

The dwarf responded in Spanish, "I am sorry to be so rude, Father, I did not see your collar," for he had great respect for the clergy, particularly the Jesuits.  "I am Alonso Ibarra, at your service." 


"Ah, a fellow Basque!"  Larramendi was delighted.  But where am I?" he asked.

"This is the Mora River, Father."


Before either could say anything else, the Jesuit's obsession took hold of him and he asked Ibarra, "What language do you think God speaks?"


Ibarra was puzzled.  Was this a test to determine the state of his soul, or was the priest a madman?  He looked at the Jesuit and was disturbed by the man's penetrating gaze, and he looked away.




The dwarf decided to humor him.  "Spanish," he said.




The dwarf thought quickly, "Because only in Spanish can one express theological ideas clearly."


"I would agree," the Jesuit said, "but what about all of the people who don't speak Spanish?  Would God deprive them of theological clarity?  Would he allow them to risk their salvation simply because they don't know Spanish?"

Alonso Ibarra was convinced now that the Jesuit was mad.  What he said made no sense.  He had to change the subject so he could help the priest to his destination.  It was getting late and he asked him where he was going.


"Santa Fe, to the college there."


"We can't get there tonight, Father.  Come with me to Mora, where we can spend the night at my house."


Larramendi nodded and the Jesuit joined the dwarf as he led the way up the banks of the Mora River.  As they walked, the Jesuit told himself that he would use all his will power to tamp down his obsession.




When they entered the lush Mora valley and came to Ibarra's house, the sun had already set.  In the late summer twilight, the mountains ahead loomed large.  The Jesuit saw the massive escarpment of the peaks running from Jicarita Peak to Cebolla Mountain.  There were still patches of snow near the tops, even though it was late summer. They reminded Larramendi of the Bavarian seminary near the Alps, where he had been sent for part of his philosophical training.  For the first time since he had landed in America he began to feel at home.  The houses, mainly adobe, had peaked roofs, a sign that the winter snow was deep and long-lasting.

The dwarf led the Jesuit across the tall grass and the stabled animals on the side of his house and ushered the Jesuit in.  The house had three rooms in shotgun fashion.  It was obvious that Ibarra was not married, for there were no feminine touches to the house.  There were two chairs made of cowhide straps, a  makeshift sofa with buffalo hides, and a small table in the main room.  The dwarf's bedroom was beyond, and there was a small kitchen.

Ibarra heated up some frijoles that he brought in from a small larder attached to the kitchen, along with a few tortillas.  Larramendi was hungry and ate them standing at the table.

Ibarra looked the Jesuit over.  They had not conversed since they left the glen near the river.  He wanted to ask the priest something, but hesitated until they got to his house, where he could quiz him at leisure.

When the Jesuit had finished eating he sat down in one of the chairs, and the dwarf sat in the other, the one obviously shorter so that he could put his feet on the floor.  From that position he had to look up into the Jesuit's face.

"Padre," he began, "I am so glad that you have come this way because I want to ask you a question.  Our priest over at Santa Gertrudis Church," he pointed west through the small window, "does not know the answer.  But you, a Jesuit, must know the answer to the question that has bothering me since I was little and learned that I would not grow any taller."

The Jesuit looked at him, noticing for the first time, how really short the dwarf was, so short that the top of his head barely came up to Larramendi's breastbone.

"When I die," the dwarf continued, "will I remain short as I am in heaven, or will I grow to normal size?"


The Jesuit pondered the question. If the dwarf grew to normal size in heaven, then no one would recognize him.  On the other hand, did Scripture not say that God would make the deaf to hear and the blind to see?  Did that mean that he would also make the short tall? Practically everyone had some physical disability, no matter how slight, even a disfiguring mole that had bothered that person throughout his life.  Would God be responsible for making everyone's image up to their expectations? There is no question that it was a problem, probably even a bigger problem than his obsession with God's language.

"What would you like?" he asked the dwarf.  "Would you like to grow tall, or are you happy with your life as it is?"  It was a typical Jesuit rhetorical trick he had been taught: turn the question back to the questioner so that he would have more time to think of an answer.


"Well, of course I would like to be taller.  What a question!"


"But will people know who you are if you don't look like yourself?  And why do you want to be taller anyway?  I can't see that it should make a difference to you."


"Not to you, Padre, but it does to me.  All my life people have looked down at me.  I had to leave school in the first grade because the other students made fun of me and the bigger boys beat me."


"But there won't be any rude people in heaven, and certainly no bullies.  Furthermore, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, our essence is what it is.  If God made you short, then that is what you are.  Look at me: if I became short like you in heaven, then who would recognize me?"


Alonso Ibarra began to get angry.  How dare this perfectly proportioned man resort to false comparisons to try to prove his point.  Well, he'd go him one better.


"Father, what about my cousin Abelardo who was blinded in an accident when he was a boy; will he be given back his sight in heaven?"


The Jesuit thought for a minute.  He recounted in his mind the stories of all the people in the New Testament who had their sight or hearing restored.  "Of course, he will get his sight back, because he was born with sight and then lost it."


"But what if he had been born blind and never seen anything?"


The Jesuit was flummoxed.  He had to come up with an answer because he was tired and wanted to go to sleep.  "Well," he said, in a tone that indicated he didn’t want to argue anymore, "sight is one of the essential senses, so I suppose that if a person is blind, or deaf, or mute, or has lost his sense of touch, that would be enough for God to make him whole."


"Are you saying that my stature is not as important?" the dwarf countered.


"Really," Larramendi said, in a soft tone, "I think we have discussed this matter enough.  I am tired and must get some sleep.  Perhaps we can discuss this in the morning," knowing full well that he would never get himself in a discussion on this topic later with this persistent small man.


"Tell me, Padre, is it possible that if I pray for a miracle that I can become taller?


"I suppose.  Everything is possible with God."


"Well," Ibarra said, "I have heard of this place in France, Lourdes it is called.  Have you been there?"


"Yes, it is in the Basque region of France.  It is a place of great devotion to Our Lady."


"I have heard that if you go there and drink and bathe in the water you can be healed."


"Well, yes, if you have some illness.  I don't think a deformity can be changed."


"Why not?  Aren't all illnesses deformities of some kind?  If Our Lord cured a man of blindness, was not his blindness a deformity of the eye?"


This was getting into a difficult theological area and the Jesuit wanted to stop the discussion at this point.  "I really am very tired."


Ibarra deferred to the priest's wishes.  He was a gracious host.  He set up the couch with some more animal skins, bade the Jesuit goodnight and went into his bedroom and turned down the lamp.




The next morning Larramendi was awakened by the smell of bacon wafting in from the kitchen where Alfonso Ibarra was making breakfast.  Ibarra was still smarting from the Jesuit's putdown of his height from last night's discussion, but his innate sense of courtesy, especially to a priest, overrode his harsh feeling.


Larramendi went into the kitchen and looked at the plate of bacon on the table.  Knowing it was Friday, he did not know how to tell his host that he could not eat meat.  He knew that he was dispensed from the obligation because he was travelling, but in fact he was no longer on the road, and if his host was a good Catholic, he should know it.  Well, a sin is a sin, and he decided to tell his host.


"Don't you observe the Friday prohibition from eating meat?" he asked.


The dwarf, put out with the Jesuit's rationalizations, answered, "Don't you know that we have the Spanish dispensation, that we can eat meat on Friday?"


"Of course, but we didn't observe that in Bilbao when I was growing up, and of course we Jesuits don't observe it at all."


"Well, I do," countered the dwarf, a bit more testily than he intended.  "Besides, we don't have much fish out here, only an occasional trout; and we have to have pork to flavor our frijoles."


The Jesuit began to argue with him when he was interrupted by a knock on the door.  His host went to the door and opened it and into the house stepped the tallest person he had ever seen, a lean man nearly seven feet tall.  Looking at the two of them, the dwarf and the giant, Larramendi felt as if he was in some fairy tale, one of the Grimm's his mother had read him as a child.  The giant was much older than the dwarf and his eyes were rimmed in red, as if he had kept them open too long.


"Father, this is Facundo Gavilán, who lives next door."


Gavilán, seeing the clerical collar and hearing the address of "Father," bent his knee to kiss the priest's hand.  Larramendi stood up and turned his hand to shake the giant's hand rather than allow him to kiss, for he had no use for all these formalities that distinguished the clerical class from the secular.  In this attitude, the Jesuits were centuries ahead of the parish priests.


"Welcome to Mora, Padre." Gavilán said.  "What brings you here?"


"I am on my way to Santa Fe; I fell off the wagon train, and your small neighbor here took pity on me and brought me here."


Alonso Ibarra bristled at the word "small," but again, the good host, he only frowned and did not say anything.

"You are in luck, Padre, for I am just now getting ready to go to Santa Fe and Chimayó to buy some books.  You are welcome to come with me."


At the mention of Chimayó, Ibarra's ears pricked up.  He knew that the church there, the Santuario, was a place of miraculous healing.  If he could go along with them, he wouldn't have to make the trip to Lourdes to get his body transformed.


"Friend Facundo, may I go along with you to Chimayó?"


"Of course."


The Jesuit looked at Gavilán with his penetrating gaze and then came the question.  "What language do you think God speaks?"


The giant responded immediately, "Aramaic."



"Because it was Jesus' native tongue, the language He grew up with and obviously the one He feels most at home with.  If God wants to make His Son feel at home in heaven, then He would address him in the language of His birth."


Larramendi was amazed at the learning of this man whose home was in this remote illiterate hamlet, but he had heard this before and immediately came the objection.  "That may be very well for discussions between God the Father and Jesus, but what language does God the Father use with the Holy Spirit"


"Spirits don't speak, Padre, they communicate without words."


More amazement.  This giant without shoes, dressed in denim trousers that did not reach his ankles, could argue with the skill of his Jesuit brothers back in Bilbao.  Of course, he appeared on the verge of old age, and probably had heard of all the arguments. Larramendi decided not to pursue his questioning.


Facundo Gavilán invited Larramendi to his house, to prepare for the roundabout trip to Santa Fe.  It was considerably larger than the dwarf's.  As the Jesuit entered, he had to dodge a high stack of books in the doorway.  Inside there were books everywhere, bookcases against every wall, a dining table topped with volumes, even the kitchen floor had books piled on it.


Larramendi was astounded.  The man had more books than were in the Jesuit library in Bilbao.  He looked around him in wonderment and asked the obvious question, "Why do you have so many books?"


"I have to get as much knowledge as I can before I die."


"But why?"


"So I won't get bored in heaven."


"What are you talking about?"


"Well, Padre, if heaven is kneeling and praying before God, like in the picture the nuns showed us in grade school, and if it lasts for eternity, I've got a low tolerance for boredom, and I imagine that after a few years, to say nothing of months or weeks, I've got to have something to think about.  I've been reading everything I can get hold of so that I can call on my memory to sustain me through eternity.  I buy books everywhere, that's why I'm going to Chimayó, where an old priest has died and his nephew is selling his books, and in Santa Fe the archbishop is selling some of his books."


"But that's mad!  Do you think that heaven is going to be one long drag of time?  Have you never heard of the Beatific Vision?"


The giant answered, "The nuns told us about it over at Santa Gertrudis School, just staring at God every day and doing nothing else.  I don't think I could take that for long."


"But man, this is God you're talking about!  He will infuse your mind with wisdom, so that you will have plenty to think about.  Besides you will meet all of your relatives in heaven, your father, mother and all your brothers, sisters, cousins -- everyone."


The giant looked at the Jesuit with a skeptical eye.  "Exactly, Padre, another good reason to have something else to think about.  I don't want to see most of them ever again.  They bored me in the past, they bore me now, and I certainly don't want to be bored by them in eternity."


"Well, you have the wrong concept of eternity."


"What is eternity if not forever?"


The Jesuit could now display his knowledge, not of scripture, but of philosophy.  "You think of eternity from our temporal existence.  We live in time, but eternity is the absence of time.  It is difficult to understand, but one way is to think of eternity as it being one grand moment in God's view.  Everything that has ever happened, is happening, and will happen is all taking place in one instant in God's mind."


"You know, Padre, I have read all about this idea in Saint Augustine.  I have been through a copy of his collected works.  I'll admit that it gives you something to think about, and I'll enjoy thinking about it after the Beatific Vision begins to pall."


The Jesuit bit his tongue.  This was heresy pure and simple, although he was not the type to man the fires of the Inquisition.  Let this poor deluded reader think whatever he wished.  He went to the dining table and began to look at the titles of the books stacked there.  There were books on natural science, astronomy, physics, biology, human anatomy, histories of the Roman Empire (he spotted a copy of Gibbon), of the city-states of the Renaissance, even the latest books about the foundation of the United States.  There were Bibles, commentaries on Scripture, histories of Christianity, even a few novels, including a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin that some of his fellow travelers on the wagon train had talked about. And, stacked in the corner of the kitchen was a copy of d'Alembert's and Diderot's Encyclopédie translated into Spanish.


Half of these books had been burned by the Inquisition and now certainly were on the Pope's Index of Forbidden Works.  No wonder Gavilán had such strange ideas.


"Do you still want to go with me to Santa Fe?" the giant asked.


Larramendi thought for a moment.  He could see where this could be a never-ending argument.  And if the dwarf started in on his stature problems, then he would be a captive Jesuit to their theological ramblings.  "Will you spare me talking about your readings for eternity?" the Jesuit responded.


"Then you spare me your questions about God's language," the giant shot back.


Larramendi needed a ride to Santa Fe, and he muttered his agreement to keep quiet about his obsession.




Gavilán told the Jesuit his itinerary: there were two ways to get to Santa Fe, the long way, over the mountains, which would take them a week, and the short way, along the Santa Fe Trail, which would take them two or three days.  Thus, they would go the short way: first to Las Vegas, some thirty miles away, with a noon stop in Sapello, then spend the night in Las Vegas; next on to Santa Fe with a stop to spend the night in San José;  the next day they could make it to Santa Fe by late evening.  Then after leaving Larramendi in Santa Fe, Gavilán and Ibarra would return by the long way: turn northwest to Chimayó, then over the mountains to Peñasco and back to Mora.


Gavilán brought two horses from his stable and brought out the wagon as well, a small covered wagon with a seat for three in the front and room in the back for the books he intended to buy.  He seated Ibarra and Larramendi next to him and as he headed out of Mora towards Las Vegas, a crowd gathered behind them.  Word had spread that there was a Jesuit in town and the villagers all had questions or requests for him to hear their confessions.


A shepherd stood in front of the wagon and stopped it.  "Padre, will you hear my confession?"


Larramendi was willing to impersonate a priest, but he knew enough to avoid the sin of actually administering the sacraments.  He would not say Mass nor would he hear confessions.  "Why don’t you go to your parish priest?" he said.


"He doesn't understand me."


"What do you mean?  If you have sinned, he is bound to forgive you if you are truly sorry."


"Ah, that's the problem.  I am sorry but I cannot help myself in sinning more."


"Well, then, I cannot help you either.  To be truly sorry is to make a firm resolution to sin no more."


A man in the crowd pulled the Jesuit aside.  "I am his brother, Padre, and I can tell you that the reason that he does not go to the parish priest is that he doesn't want the parish priest to know that he has been, uh, having unnatural relations with sheep.  He is a shepherd and the nights get lonely out in the wilds, and he finds his comfort with sheep.  He is ashamed of what he does, but when he goes out again to tend the flocks for weeks at a time, he fails to keep the good intentions he makes every time he goes to confession, and the village priest will no longer give him absolution.


Larramendi struggled to keep out the thought of what this man was doing to and with the sheep.  He said, "I cannot do so.  I do not have permission from the Archbishop to hear confessions."


Just then a small boy reached up and began tugging on the Jesuit's shirt.  "Padre, Padre, please tell me that my little dog who died last week has gone to heaven."


Larramendi looked down.  The child was smaller than Ibarra the dwarf.  The Jesuit was not unfeeling, but he did believe that children should be taught the truth, else they would go through life believing falsehoods.  He kneeled down and took the child's hand.  "Muchacho, you must understand that animals do not go to heaven.  They do not have souls.  I am sorry to tell you that only humans can go to heaven."


The child began to cry.  Between sobs he choked out words:  "If my perrito is not in heaven, then I don't want to go."


"But child, God did not put souls into dumb animals."


"I don't care.  If going to heaven is happiness, like the Sisters tell us, then I will not be happy in heaven without my perrito."


My God, the Jesuit thought, what is going on here?  Are these people so deprived of religious training that they believe like pagans?  When I get to the College in Santa Fe will my students have these same strange notions?


The child was bawling now, and this attracted more people.  The Jesuit relented.  He was taught that Jesuits adapted their ideas to the culture of the people, as the Jesuit missionaries did in China in the eighteenth century.  Well, here he was in a different culture than the one he grew up and was trained in.  So adjust.  He bent down to the child, now sobbing and sucking in his runny nose and said, "Yes, my son, when  you die you will go to heaven and your perrito will be waiting there for you."


When he said this an old woman in the crowd looked askance at him.  He shrugged it off.




They left the crowd in Mora and after about four hours they stopped at Sapello to give the horses a rest and to slake their thirst.  The general store cum tavern in Sapello was run by a Jew, Enrique Birenbaum.  The Jew had come to the United States fleeing the draft in Hesse following the abortive revolution of 1848.  He was a small man, not much taller than the dwarf, and when he saw Ibarra, he suppressed a smile because he knew about the dwarf's obsession with his height.  Birenbaum had never felt any compunctions about his small stature -- but he was almost a foot taller than the dwarf -- and in fact did not let it bother his self-confidence.


Of course, he knew Gavilán, but he wanted to know who the third person on the wagon was.


"Who is this extranjero?" he asked Gavilán jovially.


Gavilán introduced Larramendi, noting that he was a Jesuit, and told the Jesuit that Birenbaum was a Jew.


"A member of the secret society!" the Jew exclaimed, for he had come out of a Europe ridden with religious conflict.  Larramendi thought, here we go again, another know-it-all.


"A question for you, Reverend Father," he asked slyly, for if there was one thing the Jew loved it was baiting Catholics, and now he had a real live priest to fall into his rhetorical trap.  "Tell me, can Jews go to heaven?'


"Of course," Larramendi responded, "if they accept Our Lord as their savior."


"No, I mean can a practicing Jew go to heaven?"


"No, without baptism as a Christian, that is impossible."


"Suppose I get baptized and then continue to practice my Judaism?"


"Then you would be committing a grave sin.  You would be a heretic in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of God."


"I can see why in the eyes of the Church," the Jew said, "but who knows what God thinks?"


"The Church knows what God wants," the Jesuit responded, getting annoyed at the way this discussion was going.  He knew that the Jew was baiting him.


"Did the Church know what God wanted when it burned all of those Jews in Spain under the Inquisition?"


"That was the Spanish state doing the persecuting," Larramendi answered testily.


"But the clergy were involved, the Dominicans, I believe," Birenbaum said, with a sly smile, knowing full well what was coming next.


"The Jesuits would never have been involved in anything like that.  And besides, sometimes the Church makes mistakes, through the clergy."


"Ah, so, you admit that the Church makes mistakes!"


"The Church no, the clergy sometimes."


"A perfect argument!  If Catholics do something good, it is because they belong to the Church.  If they do something bad, the clergy are blamed.  You can't lose!  And how can you tell if the clergy are making a mistake in interpreting what God wants?"


Larramendi was tired of this argument, which could go on forever.  He wanted to turn the subject to something that Birenbaum would not feel so good about.  "Do you know that you will never individually go to heaven?"


"What do you mean?" the Jew said, slightly nonplussed.


"It is a fact that your prophets and philosophers argue: there is no personal salvation for Jews.  You will be saved only as a member of your tribe, and you will not experience heaven as Christians will."


The Jew had never heard this.  Having spent most of his life among Catholics, he naturally assumed that he would go to heaven or hell as an individual.  He wasn't sure that he liked the Jesuit's description of a Jewish heaven.


"Well, how can I go to heaven as a member of a tribe and not feel individually where I am?"


"I don't know," responded the Jesuit.  "Perhaps you should read Maimonides or another of your philosophers."  He hoped that would put the Jew in his place and that it would give him something to think about instead of baiting Catholics.  In any event, he was interrupted by Gavilán, who had called out to start the wagon.




They left Sapello and before long they could see the buildings of Las Vegas.  All the while they were skirting the high mountains of the Sangre de Cristos on their right as they headed in a southwesterly direction.


Gavilán said he had to stop in Las Vegas to see a bookseller and they would spend the night there.  The bookseller would put them up for the night.  They crossed the Gallinas River and stopped at a large frame and brick house where his friend lived, and they got off while he went on to see what books he could find.


Gavilán's friend was a bookseller named Joaquín Martínez.  He was most gracious and invited the three to spend the night in his house and to have dinner with them. His house was a bookstore on the first floor and living quarters on the second. He was married and had two children.  Martínez' son Fernando was sixteen years old, and was, as Joaquín told the priest, "precocious."  Thus it was, after dinner, while still seated around the dining table, young Fernando asked the Jesuit if we would know everything in heaven.


"You will know what  you need to know," answered the Jesuit.


"I need to know lots of things," the boy said.


"Like what?"


"Well, first I want to know all languages>"


"That sounds reasonable, and I am sure that God will give you that gift."


"Then, I want to know all about science: what makes  the sun shine, why dogs howl at the moon, everything."


"That too sounds reasonable," the Jesuit responded, wondering where this was leading.  He found out in the next question.


"I want to know how my grandfather died."


"What do you mean?"  The Jesuit asked.  His father looked perturbed.


"I heard from one of my uncles that he died in a bordello."


"I don't think you have to know about that.  Some things should remain private, between God and man."


"Well then, I am not going to be happy in heaven unless I know everything.  It is man's nature to be curious, and if heaven is the fulfillment of our desires, then I should know how my grandfather died."


"Enough!" his father said.  "Leave the table."


Larramendi was relieved.  These theological questions were getting out of hand.  Although he was an expert in all of them, his Jesuit training had not prepared him for the questions to be personalized.  As he went to sleep that night he wondered what the next day would bring.




The next morning Gavilán loaded the wagon with some books he had bought in Las Vegas and the dwarf and the Jesuit got on, and they set off for Santa Fe.  It would be fifty miles and they would have to spend the night halfway, in San José.  A few miles out of Las Vegas they passed through the small village of Tecolote.  As they passed through, they were hailed by a middle aged man who asked them for a ride to Santa Fe.  Gavilán told him to hop aboard.  Father Larramendi did not identify himself as a Jesuit because he didn't want another philosophical argument.  However, he could not disguise his Roman collar and the new rider could tell that he was a priest.


The new rider identified himself as Ramón Larragoite.  "Another Basque!" Larramendi exclaimed.  The man said nothing, acknowledging the Jesuit's exclamation with a nod of his head.  Thank heaven, the Jesuit thought, no more philosophical arguments.  He settled in for the ride to Santa Fe.


By the time they had rounded the smaller hills and settled in a straight line to Santa Fe, it began to get late.  They approached the town of San José and Gavilán said they should stop for the night.  There was a small church in San Jose and the pastor welcomed them and offered his house for them to stay the night.  Larramendi continued to praise his luck, for no philosophical or theological questions had been raised.


It was not to be.  After the pastor invited them to share his supper with them and everyone relaxed around the fireplace, Larragoite began.


"I am glad to have two learned servants of God here to answer my questions, questions that have been bothering me for some time."


The pastor demurred, noting that he was a simple priest who had little knowledge of philosophical questions.  Larramendi sighed and though, here it comes.  "What question do you have?"


"It concerns free will, Padre."


"There should be no question about free will.  God gave it to us, and that is all there is to that."


"Then tell me," Larragoite said, "how is it that we have urges, desires, and feelings that we are told are sinful?  How free are we to act when we have these feeling, created in us by God?"


"Yes we have them, but we have the freedom to act on them or to reject them," the Jesuit responded.


"Not so easy, Padre.  Let me tell you something.  I have a cousin, a loco, who fell off a horse and hit his head when he was a child, and since then he has become an arsonist.  He enjoys setting fires, so much so that we have to keep him penned in the house and keep him away from any tool he can use to start a fire.  Does he have free will?


"Of course not.  He is not responsible for his actions, because he was hurt when he was a child.  That accident took away his free will."


"Well, I have another cousin who cannot keep his hands off women, married or not.  Is he free?"


"Yes, he is free to obey the laws of God and man, or not to obey."


"But he was created that way.  Why did God create him with such sinful urges, and then the Church tells us that he must ignore them, control them?"


This was getting out of hand.  The Jesuit wanted to stop this argument, and the only way he could was to appeal to faith.  "Well, God gives us tests so that we will be worthy of salvation."


"Wouldn't it be a lot simpler if God created us without these urges?  Besides, how many men are in prison because they faced impossible situations that caused them to commit crimes?"


"We must trust God," the Jesuit answered weakly, "He will never give us a problem that we do not have the power to face."  This answer did not come from his Jesuit training but rather from the third-grade nun in his parochial school.  He really did not like to use this argument, for it was not an answer at all.


Larragoite shrugged, and did not respond.  Larramendi could tell that his answers had made no impression on the man.  The Jesuit then said, "When we get to Santa Fe, I will ask the Rector of our community there to provide you with an answer that will satisfy you.  I am like our humble host," he nodded to the pastor, "I am not skilled in all of these questions."


"But you are a Jesuit.  The nuns in our grade school, and the priests in our parishes told us that Jesuits knew all the answers."


Larramendi said he was tired and had to get some sleep.  With that, the conversation ended.  But, as he closed his eyes under the blanket, he thought, What else?




It was not long in coming.  The next morning, after they left San José, they were hailed by another man who asked for a ride to Santa Fe.  This man, who introduced himself as Fernando Cruz had a terrible scar running from his forehead, down the left side of his face, all the way to his chin.  It looked raw, as if it had not yet healed.  Larramendi didn’t want to ask him what had happened for fear of starting another argument, so he kept quiet.  Not so Gavilán, who asked him almost as soon as he got on what had happened to his face.


Cruz responded.  "That was done to me by that chingado Miguel Urioste.  I was working for him, mending fences and he refused to pay me what we had agreed to.  I argued with him, demanding my just wages, and we got into a fight.  He pulled a knife on me -- I had no defense -- and he did this to me.  I am going to Santa Fe to find a doctor to help me."


Larramendi could not keep silent, he felt so bad for the man.  "How terrible!  Is there no law in this place?"


Cruz said, "Not here.  It takes the sheriff a day to get here from Santa Fe, and by that time it is too late.  Urioste is hiding in the mountains, on the Rowe Mesa, where he has relatives.  The sheriff would never find him."  Then Cruz noted the Roman collar on Larramendi and asked who he was.  It all came out and the questioning began.


"Tell me, Padre, when I die and get to heaven, will Urioste be there as well?  Because if he is, then God is not just."


"We don't know what God will do.  We do know that he is all just and all merciful."


"But is it merciful for Urioste to go to heaven when he has been cheating people for years?  I am not the only one; all you have to do is ask around San José, and everyone will tell you what a scoundrel he is.  The only way I agreed to work for him was because I needed to get some money for my family."


"Well, I am sure that God will take this into account," the Jesuit replied.


"What's to take into account?  The man is a cheat, a liar, and a thief, and he did this to me!  How is God going to square that with his mercy?"


Larramendi pulled out his pocket watch, looked at the time, yawned, and said, "We have to trust in God.  Now, I am very tired, and I must get some sleep."


Cruz had not gotten the answer he wanted and was clearly disappointed.  However, with the native respect that all of them had for a priest, he said nothing and retreated to a corner of the wagon as it made its way to Santa Fe.




As the wagon slowly made its way into Santa Fe, Larramendi was relieved to be rid of the questions. The wagon pulled into the Jesuit college and Larramendi thanked Gavilán for the ride.  The dwarf and Cruz shook his hand and thanked him for his company.  Neither said anything about the questions they had asked, nor about the disappointing answers.  Gavilán offered that he and Ibarra were going back to Mora by way of Chimayó and Peñasco, over the mountain passes.  Ibarra asked Larramendi if he had heard of the miraculous soil at the Santuario in Chimayó.  The Jesuit had not, so Ibarra told him about the farmer, Bernardo de Abeyta, who was cured of his sickness by a vision of Jesus and who built a shrine in thanks.  Then, visitors to the shrine began to experience miraculous healings when they took the dirt from the floor and rubbed it on their wounds.  The annex to the Santuario was filled with crutches in testimony to the healings.


The Jesuit listened to all of this with a skeptical look.  While he knew about the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes, he found it strange that Our Lord would cure these primitive people who, after his listening to their questions, appeared to be one step away from paganism.  But, as he told the questioners, God does things that we have no rational explanation for.  It went against everything he knew, because there had to be a rational explanation for everything, but he was in no position to argue with the dwarf or anyone else.  Gavilán and Ibarra left and made their way back to Mora by way of Chimayó and Peñasco.


Larramendi settled into the school's routine and was no longer interested in God's language; there were more important things to think about.




Three weeks after Larramendi began teaching at the school, he heard from a visiting priest about the miracle that had occurred at the Santuario.  It appears that a small man, a dwarf, rubbed some of the dirt on his body -- in fact, he took handfuls and made mud and bathed in the mud and then left, headed north to Peñasco.  When he arrived in Peñasco, no one recognized him because he had grown almost two feet.  There were conflicting reports:  some said that it was a different person, that the dwarf had disappeared in the mountains, and that someone who claimed to be the dwarf said that a miracle had happened, and that the taller person was a priest who was connected to the Santuario and wanted people to believe in a miracle so that they would come to get some of the holy dirt, and he would charge them for it.  On the other hand, the wagon driver who had driven the dwarf to Chimayó, said the dwarf had really been made longer, but there was no way to authenticate his story, for after telling it in a bar in Peñasco, he was killed the next day when his wagon, overloaded with books, tipped over into an a deep canyon on the way to Mora.