St. Paul’s message of grace is about Mev Puleo. I first met her when she was a college student—vivacious, intelligent, and wonderfully on fire. There was a splendor to her joy. Energy sparked her writings, her talk, her photographic genius. Later, in the hope that others might see her work, I proposed a book called Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ—my words, her pictures worth a thousand words.
This was only a small part of her labors. Mev was a theologian, like her husband, Mark Chmiel, at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, and her photography graced journals and newspapers. She attended to the poor, especially of Central and South America. She revealed their faces. She recorded their voices.
But then it was Mev who is poor. She who was rich, as St. Paul writes, “in every respect, in faith and discourse, in knowledge, in total concern,” was powerless before the threat of death. Her brain hosted an incurable malignancy allowing only a 40 percent chance of living three short years. The poor then has to speak for her.
The night before her surgery she was told that Gustavo Gutiérrez sent not only his prayers, but the prayers of all the poor. Thus we, too, are included, so poor before the mystery of life and death.
If God does not make death or rejoice in it, then why does God not cure her? The Book of Wisdom claims so that God fashioned all things that they might have imperishable being. But we perish. All of us. And now Mev Puleo seemed scheduled—far too soon. Justice may be undying and love may be eternal, but she faced death.
So pray I must. Our world, our church, our people, her friends needed her too much. Jairus said to Jesus: “My little daughter is critically ill. Please come so that she may get well and live.” Fate was reversed. Why would you not heal Mev? Was she not as worthy as Jairus’s child?
And so I concocted a plea for a miracle. I summoned advocates, her favorite inspirations—Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and Sister Ann Manganaro. Her family would enlist medical means. All of us would besiege heaven.
When I read the prayer to her over long-distance lines, she requested one change—the addition, “if it is according to your will.” And so it read:
“Good and gracious God of all the heavens and the earth. In Jesus Christ, our savior, our brother and your Son, you have revealed the healing power of your love and your will that death be overcome. We pray that, if it is according to your will, your glory shine forth in the miraculous healing of Mev Puleo’s incurable brain malignancy. With the intercession and solidarity of your servants Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Dr. Ann Manganaro. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Mev’s additional words were her reminder to me that Jesus said: “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.” God wills that we not perish. In faith more supple than mine, she knew that even if we die to this world, we may trust God’s will that we live eternally.