Reflection on the Book of Mev by Abbie Amico
by Mark Chmiel
My copy of The Book of Mev arrived at the most opportune, and the most inopportune time imaginable. I was living in the Peter Claver Catholic Worker House in South Bend, Indiana and was being exposed to solidarity with the marginalized and contemplative living for the first time. I was overwhelmed with the ideas of radical theology, nonviolent direct action, and the grace that sprung forth from every meal. I was learning that my relationship with God wanted out of the box in which I had placed it, and so did my need for community. This attraction to intentional poverty put me in a place of peace and a place of restlessness. This is where I met Mev for the first time.
People talk about praying to saints, or heroes of the Catholic faith who are inspiring, and who can intercede for us to God when we are going through a particular time in our lives that they could relate to. These people are given statues, miracles are honored, and their lives are given chapters in books that will exist for centuries to come. When I was in the Catholic Worker, or when I was struggling to identify with that need for a wider worldview that only exists right outside of our comfort zone, I sought Mev. Mev became a saint for me the minute I opened the book and read about her transition from a comfortable life in St. Louis to a life of the unknowns in Central and South America. And as she did her “bridge-building,” connecting this comfortable reality to the reality of the rest of the world, I began to do the same.
As I progressed through that summer and as the call to something outside myself continued to move through me, I again thought about how this real-life saint would have reacted. I did not do so because of a pretty picture on a stained glass window, but because her life was vulnerable and difficult and real. If other people could make the difficult decisions and learn to hold the pain and the love of the world with arms wide open, then maybe I could too. Maybe I could go to the Philippines and learn to see the world with new eyes, instead of continuing the life of comfort that would be found in Madrid. Maybe I too could be “ruined for life,” as the Jesuit Dean Brackley said, and run towards the fear of not being understood by my peers, instead of away from it.
Since this decision to study abroad through the Casa program in the Philippines, The Book of Mev has become a fluid document, changing as I change. Coming back from this trip across the globe, reentering American society, has not been the easiest task. But I again look to this honest bridge-builder for guidance. I ask her how she did it. And again, the answer in the book is not an easy one. But it’s an honest one. And I think a lot of times what we need from saints is the honest: the real.
Choosing to live in a developing country and choosing to live in the Catholic Worker were not the easiest choices. But trying to change just my worldview alone would have been harder. Instead I learned from what I perceived as Mev’s own openness to new relationships. I watched as she channeled her feelings of anger or sadness about her loved ones on the margins and began to accept those feelings. She began to seek those feelings. As I learned in the Philippines, anger and sadness do not have to be a punishment. They can be an invitation into a deeper peace and happiness. Watching my loved ones in the Catholic Worker struggle for jobs and yearn for a life of stability was painful. But having that be an honest truth shared with me in the comfort of our shared home in the Catholic Worker around a large pot of coffee was God in the real.
Mev challenges me to remember the peaceful, real God that existed in that pot of coffee, and to seek that manifestation daily. Whether it be smiling in passing to those whom I do not know, or an ear for the lonely, the world needs more mentors and saints like Mev, who challenge us to look past ourselves and into the connectedness and love that exists in community with other people. Mev blazed that trail for me, and I continue to walk it with her daily.