El Perdon

There’s a song of John McCutcheon, “El Perdon,” in his album “Untold,” which has touched me deeply ever since I first heard it a few years ago.

McCutcheon sings of a soldier sent to kill a priest in the San Juan de Dios hospital who tells them:

Mátame de frente, porque quiero verte, para darte perdon.

“Face me when you kill me, for I want to see you to give you my final perdon.”

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

I wondered whether this was a true story until I looked up Joan Alinsa who was killed on September 19, 1973 in Santiago, Chile. The Wikipedia article in Spanish is here.

The story is true.

Padre Joan was a Spaniard missionary and worker priest in Santiago, Chile.

He was arrested in the hospital and shot at the Bulnes bridge. According to the report of Nelson Bañados, the 18 year old soldier who killed him, he told them:

Por favor no me pongas la venda, mátame de frente porque quiero verte para darte el perdón“.

“Please don’t blindfold me, kill me face to face, because I want to see you to forgive you.”

Perhaps in a world where violence and revenge are all too common and people are killing others in so many ways, we need to recall the witness of Padre Joan Alinsa.

There is a very sad follow up to this story. Bañados confessed the killing to a priest and then let his role in the killing be known. He later committed suicide.

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Information on the photo:
«Memorial a Joan Alsina 03» de Ciberprofe – Trabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons – here

 

The little things

One of the works that influenced me in my early years (in the 1960s) was Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.

Hammarskjold was the Secretary General of the United Nations who died in a plane crash in the Congo on September 18, 1961. He was there to help negotiate a peace in that land that still is besieged by conflict.

After his death a book he had left was published. It contained the wisdom he had written in his journals over his years of public service.

One quote has stuck with me because it helps me see that what really count are not the great deeds we dream of but the small deeds of faithfulness in daily life. It is so easy to try to live the “great commitment” but miss the faithfulness in the little things that make great things happen.

 “The ‘great’ commitment is so much easier than the ordinary everyday one — and can all too easily shut our hearts to the latter. A willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice can be associated with, and even produce, a great hardness of heart….

“The ‘great’ commitment all too easily obscures the ‘little’ one. But without the humility and warmth which you have to develop in your relations to the few with whom you are personally involved, you will never be able to do anything for the many. Without them, you will live in a world of abstractions, where your solipsism, your greed for power, and your death-wish lack one opponent which is stronger than they – love. Love, which is without an object, the outflowing of a power released by self-surrender, but which would remain a sublime sort of super-human self-assertion, powerless against the negative forces within you, if it were not tamed by the yoke of human intimacy and warmed by its tenderness. It is better for the health of the soul to make one [person] good than ‘to sacrifice oneself for [hu]mankind.’ For a mature [person], these are not alternatives, but two aspects of self-realization, which mutually support each other, both being the outcome of one and the same choice.”

 

Bearing the marks of the crucified

From now on, let no one trouble me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
Galatians 6: 17

St. Francis on Alverna

St. Francis on Alverna

Today Franciscans throughout the world celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and side which Francis was the first to experience in his own body.

In 1224, two years before his death, in the midst of a time of deep anxiety in the soul of Francis about the future of the order that had grown up around him, Francis was in prayer and fasting on Mount Alverna.

He saw a vision of a seraph on the cross and experienced the wounds of Christ in his own body which he sought to hide.

It is very easy to dismiss the stigmata as a medieval legend meant to present Francis as “another Christ” or to exalt the stigmata to a super-miraculous manifestation of God’s special favor.

But I think it’s much simpler.

As Augustine Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (p. 118):

… the stigmata were the culmination of Francis’s life since his conversion: a search for total conformity to Christ.

Francis sought to be like Christ in all things, especially in his poverty and his love for all people and all creation.

As Carlo Carretto puts it in I, Francis, Francis prayed for two graces:

Lord Jesus, two graces I ask of Thee before I die.
First, to feel in my soul and in my body, as far as possible, the sorrow which Thou, sweet Jesus, didst endure in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; second, to feel in my heart, as far as possible, that extraordinary love with which Thou, O Son of God, wast inflamed, to the point of willingly undergoing so great a Passion for us sinners.

Francis sought to be like Christ in solidarity with the suffering and love for all.

The stigmata are signs that Francis felt the pain of Christ – as Christ feels the pain of all human beings. They are also signs that Francis wanted to love as Christ did, loving even those who crucified Him.

The wounds of Christ and the stigmata of St. Francis are for me a call to deeper solidarity with the suffering and to a more embracing love for all.

Lord, open me today to solidarity and love.

All the parts of the Body of Christ

Today’s first lectionary reading is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 12: 12-14, 27-31a.

As I read it I noticed that a large portion of the chapter had been omitted. This is often done to shorten the reading. But in this case I feel something important has been left out.

In working with catechists and in materials for religious education here, I have used 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 in a dynamic way.

I begin asking the catechists to draw a body and write the parts of the body on the paper. Then I read St. Paul in parts, emphasizing that we are one body in Christ, the Church.

But Paul is very clear that we aren’t all the same; all of us have different functions. He even says that “the parts of our body that we mist need are those that seem to be the weakest; the parts that we consider lower are treated with more care and we cover them with more modesty…” (1 Corinthians 12: 22-23).

We talk about how we need all the parts of the body. We get concrete talking about how we feel when we have stomach problems or a headache. Nothing seems to work.

We need all the parts of the body – not just those appointed to positions in the Church.

Then I have the catechists come forward and write their names on the part of the body that they feel most represents them and their work,

DSC01195

We then read and reflect on verse 27:

You are the Body of Christ
and each of you is a member of that Body.

The catechists will do the same process with the young people they work with, helping them see that each one of us has an important role in the Church. This is extremely important in a society that looks down upon the poor.

Finally we conclude with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks out
with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he chooses
to go about doing good.
For as He is the Head of the Body,
so you are the members;
and we are all one in Christ.

Unless we remember this, we might forget the important role that everyone plays – from the Pope in Rome to the illiterate adolescent in a rural Honduran village. We all are part of Christ’s Body – with a role, with a mission: building up God’s Reign of Love in this world.

 

The Cross today

San Damiano Cross

San Damiano Cross

Today in much of the Christian world we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The Cross is the sign of our redemption but all too often we reduce the cross to a minor pain or discomfort, something disagreeable that disturbs our normal routine.

This morning I came across this story I love about Clarence Jordan, a Baptist preacher and farmer, who founded Koinonia Farm, an interracial community, in Georgia in the 1950s. He also authored the “Cotton Patch” translation of parts of the New Testament that placed Jesus in Georgia.

Clarence Jordan was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.    As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.

“That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,” the minister said with a satisfied smile.

“You got cheated,” said Jordan. “Times were when Christians could get them for free.”

Jordan was, presumably, thinking of the martyrs of the early church who died for their faith.

But today I am thinking of other martyrdoms.

In 1597, Christians, priests and laity, were crucified in Nagasaki, Japan.

In the 1980s, some activist Christians were crucified by the Guatemalan army.

Today, Christians are being crucified by ISIS.

But it seems all too easy to be a Christian in many parts of the world. We often forget the radical commitment of Christ with the poor and with all the suffering, His radical love which embraced the world, including His enemies.

Today I need to contemplate Jesus who, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2: 6-8:

did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
But, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, made in human likeness;
… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

And then I need to ask myself how I can put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2: 5).

What is your idol?

Shun the cult of idols…
You cannot drink, at the same time,
from the cup of the Lord
and from the cup of demons.
1 Corinthians 10: 14, 21

 In the US when I discussed belief in God in classes or with groups of students, I would sometimes suggest that everyone, even atheists, believe in something. Thus the really important question is not “Do you believe in God?” Rather the critical question is “What God do you believe in? What God do you trust?”

Sometimes I believe that we Christians do not believe in the God of Jesus Christ, but we try to use God as a way to disguise our real beliefs. We say we believe in God, but we are atheists in practice.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I say?”
Luke 6: 46

Do we really trust a God who commands us to love our neighbors? Or do we trust in “gods of metal,” our weapons?

Do we really trust God who tells us not to worry about we are to eat, or drink? Or do we trust in “gods of gold and silver,” our savings?

Do we really trust a God who calls us to feed the hungry? Or do we hoard our grains, seeking higher prices?

Do we really believe in a God who identifies with the stranger and the migrant? Or do we seek more secure borders by building walls?

Do we really believe in a God who became human as a poor man and gives Himself to us in the vulnerability of bread and wine, His Body and Blood?

Do we believe in a God who loves all people? Or do we restrict out love to people of our own nation, class, race, or religion?

Do we believe in a God whose servant Paul told us to associate with the poor? Or do we seek the attention of the powerful and wealthy?

Do we believe in a God who created the heavens and the earth and made humans in His image and likeness? Or do we worship a god who is identified with my nation?

Maybe we should call to mind the words of St. John Chrysostom, whose feast is celebrated today:

If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Concerning our true city, the builder and maker is God. Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are nonetheless only strangers and sojourners. We are enrolled in Heaven — our citizenship is there. Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great and admire those which are of little account.

If you want to further explore this, I recommend the writings of the late Jesuit, John Kavanaugh, especially Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance: 25th anniversary edition (Orbis Books, 2006).

 

 

Love Your Enemies

Remembering today the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a plane in 2001, recalling the US sponsored coup in Chile in 1973, and noting the massacre at the church of Saint Jean Bosco in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1988, today’s Gospel (Luke 6: 27-38) is one that most of us don’t want to hear.

love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you….
love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind
to the ungrateful and the wicked….
Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.
…the measure with which you
measure will in return be measured out to you.

These words of Thomas Merton, in his essay “The Root of War Is Fear,” found in New Seeds of Contemplation and first published in The Catholic Worker in October 1961, give us a hint of why this Gospel is so challenging:

At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another: they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. …

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above  all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

And so today it would be good to ask ourselves if we are willing to let ourselves be converted, from fear to love, from self-righteousness to mercy, from revenge to self-giving nonviolence.