Flores and The Bugatti: On Finding Time for Friends

by | Apr 14, 2021 | Blogs, Spirituality

I carry a business card in my wallet, just one. Sinesio Flores, landscaping and housekeeping, it proclaims over contrasting trees and tools. I carry it as a reminder of Sinesio, a man who taught me much about giving and a little about God. 

It took me some time to learn what God was trying to teach me through Sinesio, the man who, for over 25 years, kept the novitiate grounds a paradise, more heaven than Hollywood, with his care and hard work. But, God eventually got through as God has a way of doing. 

Sinesio taught me that gifts don’t need to be big and they don’t need to be expensive, even if it seems insignificant, everyone has something to give. Love, the gift of yourself, of your care for another of God’s beloved, can touch deeply, as Sinesio’s care did, and say more than the shiniest wrapped gift.

The Jesuit Novitiate in Los Angeles is a green oasis in the midst of asphalt and traffic. I stared out the double doors at the end of the hallway watching Sinesio pass on the Bugatti, his nickname for his John Deer mower. If he saw me, he would shut it off and greet me excitedly. This was what I was trying to avoid.

I was returning from my apostolate, my twice weekly opportunity to practice being a Jesuit in the world outside the novitiate bubble1, and looking forward to sinking into the oblivion of nothing worthwhile. If I timed it right, I could squeeze past Sinesio, unnoticed, onto the computer and an endless feed of updates, advertisements and invitations from “friends.”  

If I was caught, a greeting would turn into a favor and a conversation, just what I was trying to avoid. It seems odd now that I once tried to steer clear of these talks, conversations I miss, holy moments of communion. But, I learn slowly, historically choosing the hard way, not the easy way.

With time, and many failed attempts at evasion, my heart began to soften, moving from evasion to engagement as our laughter over the Bugatti as she choked on wet grass (again), or the same joke shared (again), grew into a friendship that lead to deeper conversations, holy spaces where God’s presence became apparent.

The softening of my heart had little to do with my own efforts. It was a result of Sinesio, of his kind and giving nature, of God working through him to get to me. Sinesio may not have known it at the time, but he was helping to form me as a Jesuit, as much as any priest or prayer.

There were always things for Sinesio to do, and he did a lot, as I and the other novices were reminded the few times a year he was away. Yet, this interminable list of chores never stopped him from shutting off his exotic ride, smiling from ear to ear and inviting me back to his office (the garage) for a cold one (bottled water).

It didn’t matter that there was a bigger fridge, with real cold ones, inside the door I had just walked out of. Sinesio had something to give, a bottle of water, a joke, conversation, and so he gave. Sinesio loved the staff and Jesuit novices of the novitiate, and he made this abundantly clear through the space he cared for and the laughter we shared.

I’d like to share one more memory of Sinesio, one I think he would laugh at and retell with joy. A memory that speaks of his love and care for the novitiate community. Nothing in Southern California is made for anything other than sunshine and this past December a downpour had turned Sinesio’s canvas, the novitiate grounds, into a marsh. But, Sinesio had a plan, something to give, or, at least, information to share. Sandbags, downtown at city hall, were available for anyone to use and free.

And, so we went to pick up some of these “free sandbags.” As we backed the truck up to begin loading, I was reminded that English was not Sinesio’s first language. FOR MUNICIPAL USE ONLY I kept reading as we hoisted bags into the back of the truck. How would I explain my detainment for this heinous crime I worried, as I continued to pilfer public property?

I figured that trying to explain to Sinesio that the sandbags weren’t actually free, and for anyone to use, would only have kept us there, with bags of evidence in the back of the truck, longer. Sinesio was showing his love for us by doing what he could, picking up “free” sandbags and trying to keep us dry. Maybe I should have said something but caring for others is contagious and I could see the joy on Sensio’s face as we grabbed “just a couple more.” 

Sinesio joined the communion of saints December 8, 2020. He was a father, son, brother, uncle, faithful friend, and beloved member of the Jesuit novitiate for over 25 years. His final gift, the day he died, was a Christmas tree. It was a heart attack that got him. Which is appropriate, I think, since he would attack, with his heart, anyone he came across, a broad smile, joking and unafraid to show his love.

I text Sinesio from time to time, to let him know I’m thinking about him. He responds in little ways: blooming flowers and hummingbirds. The earth, Sinesio’s canvas, a reminder of the love he had for all of us.

Al rato amigo.2
Que en paz descanses.3   

Sinesio Flores . . . presente!4
May 21, 1961 – December 8, 2020


Photo courtesy of the author with permission.

  1. The Novitiate, a two year period at the beginning of Jesuit life, is, by intention, a space set apart from the outside world in order to give the novice (one entering religious life and living in the novitiate) space to recognize and learn to listen to God in the novices’ life.
  2. See you in a bit friend or see you shortly friend, a very informal salutation. Appropriate when you are sure you will see the person in a few minutes or hours.
  3.   Rest in Peace.
  4. Presente is the traditional spoken (or shouted) response to a name, or litany of names, of a deceased person. It is used to memorialize our loved ones who have given their lives in the struggle for a more just and loving world and whose presence is felt through our memories of them and the work they did.

Brett Helbling, SJ

bhelblingsj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Brett