I just returned from a two-day retreat with some middle school boys at Circle Lake Retreat Center just north of Houston. As I was walking through the retreat center grounds with the boys after my talk on responsibility, one of them commented on how the landscape and climate is very much like that in Mexico. The boy, Jorge, is from Mexico City and has been in the United States for about two years. 75% of the 8th grade boys at my school are from Mexico, and many of them made similar remarks. I commented that Texas was once part of a newly-independent Mexico back in the 1800’s. Then Jorge, only 14 years old but full of ideas and good will, said “If we still had Mexico, we would not be as poor and helpless as we are now.”
In that single thought, Jorge captured some of the absurdity and utter contingency of both material poverty and national geography. Sure, Texas is a land whose resources can go a long way in driving an economy, though Mexico, sensing its impotence in regaining Texas, accepted a large sum of money in compensation for its loss. How striking that decisions that are made by leaders many generations ago so profoundly affect the people of today who played no role in the execution of those decisions. Mexico was relunctant to settle Texas when it had it in its possession. Americans settled Texas as guests of Mexico. The Americans revolted, Texas later became a state, Mexico received a handsome payment for the land…and here’s Jorge now in the year 2007 reflecting on how these contingent events have so adversely hurt his country economically.The decision-makers are not to blame—how could they have known? Nevertheless, pursuing the conversation further with Jorge, I realized that this young man has already begun to grasp a sense of responsibilty in terms of the political, economic and geographical decisions that humans make. He understands that we inherit a plethora of bad effects whose causes perhaps at the time were opportune and seemingly innocuous. What’s important is that Jorge grasps that political and social questions must be informed by a solid, person-oriented ethics that looks back in repentance and looks forward to restitution so that, in the present, decisions may be made that benefit a common humanity rather than a national identity. Was the U.S. wrong? Was Mexico? Were the Texans? Not important questions here. What’s important is rectitude in the present, but also responsibility for the future, and I feel that young Jorge has begun to understand this. Best of all, Jorge’s insight came within the context of a retreat whose theme was the interrelating of prayer, penance and responsibility. It was a good retreat.